One of the things that I love about the Michigan game is that it has it's own inertia that other rivalry games typically don't; even when Michigan is bad, it still means something because the Wolverines are always that last hurdle to jump over if you want to get to something good.
Sometimes it's been a cause of worry (read: every single Michigan game that John Cooper coached), sometimes it's been a cause of devil may care celebration (read: 2004, when Ohio State as a fanbase more or less said "screw it, let's go for broke"), but it is always something that we nervously anticipate because of what it means for the rest of the season. Even with the addition of the B1G championship game, Michigan is our Charon, our final obstacle to the underworld that is the postseason.
That's a good thing, because that's what gives this rivalry meaning.
Why, for instance, did we fret so much about beating Buffalo by "only" 20 points? Was it because we really care about beating the Bulls badly (high five for alliteration)? Do you really care about national perception that early in the season, especially when Ohio State was ranked so highly to begin with? Did the suspensions of Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby give you pause, make you think that this was going to be a season lived on the edge?
Why did we worry so much when Braxton Miller went down with an injury? Obviously we feel for the guy and don't want to lose our starting quarterback, but Kenny Guiton was a known quantity and we shouldn't have been that concerned about his ability to keep us afloat during the weaker part of our schedule. But we worried anyway, didn't we?
What were your expectations going into the Wisconsin game? Did you expect Ohio State to lose, in a night game at home? Were you apprehensive about the return of number 5, and maybe thought that he might not be able to play up to his abilities? That his rust might cost us? What was the feeling in your gut when you heard that Bryant was down for the count for the rest of the season? Did you think that it might blow up the whole defense?
What did you think about the team after they escaped Evanston with a 10 point win in early October? Did you start to have serious doubts about whether Ohio State would be able to finish undefeated (because I sure as hell did). At what point did you begin thinking about potential replacements for Luke Fickell at the end of the season?
Speaking of defense, what was your response when Iowa began exploiting the middle third of our Silver Bullets for huge gains? Did you ever believe that Bradley Roby would begin to round into form? Were you terrified that the potential loss of Ryan Shazier could send the entire defense tumbling down like a house of cards? Were you worried that a d-line that runs about five deep might not hold up over the course of a season?
Now how do you feel, after Ohio State has coalesced to outscore their opponents 158-49 in the last three games? How do you feel, now that El Guapo has become an unstoppable freight train powered by nightmares and pain?
How do you feel knowing that guys like Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett are playing the best football of their lives? How do you feel knowing that Braxton Miller is still the offensive force of nature he's always been, and that even if he goes down we have the Big Ten's second best quarterback right behind him?
And lastly, how do you feel knowing that this team is coached by a man with more creativity, drive, and pure rock fury than maybe any other coach in America?
Pretty good, right?
Here's the thing: all of those doubts and fears that you had during the rest of the season are totally understandable. Football is a game of emotion for both players and fans, but it's spread over such a short period of time and so few games that everything seems magnified a thousandfold. And that's okay, because despite all those problems and worries (imagined, blown up into silly proportions, or real), they're about to be over.
No matter what others think or say, it's been hard. But only one team remains. Our constant, eternal barrier to the promised land that is the postseason. They represent the sum total of all the stress and concern that we've piled on ourselves since late August, and the game that we play against them tomorrow will be the ultimate catharsis for us.
The Michigan Wolverines are our last Triforce piece, our final key to the dungeon, our last stone in the Infinity Gauntlet.
And they're going to lose.
Photos thanks to Kirk Irwin Photography