Thirteen players from Michigan’s 2018 roster remain on the 2022 team. Far fewer made the travel roster for the last Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus, and even less actually played in the contest.
Only a handful of Wolverines projected to compete for starting jobs on offense and defense this year are among that mix, which means most of Michigan’s key contributors come Nov. 26 will have never experienced a road game at Ohio Stadium. It’s been four years since the maize and blue played at the Shoe, and more than two decades since Michigan won a game on Ohio State’s home soil. But that’s exactly what Michigan has to do to prove last season’s rivalry win was more than an outlier.
“They’re not gonna flinch if that's what you're asking. There's nothing really to teach them or show them or tell them,” said Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh when asked about how many of his top players will deal with their first game in Columbus. “I mean, I know our team really well by now, and they don’t blink or flinch at stuff. They just keep attacking and building and that's definitely our goal; win the championship again. And fight like hell for Michigan to get that title.”
The last edition of The Game to take place in Ohio was particularly notable. Fourth-ranked Michigan entered as the favorite following a string of concerning performances by the Buckeyes, and appeared to be on the cusp of turning the tide in the rivalry. Instead, the Wolverines were turned back in dramatic fashion.
Ryan Day’s offense mustered 62 points behind six scores and nearly 400 passing yards from Dwayne Haskins, and the Buckeyes finished with more than a three-touchdown margin of victory to close out the regular season.
Ohio State got an even more lopsided victory in Ann Arbor the next year, and COVID-19 effectively canceled the 2020 game. The Game returned to Michigan in 2021, although even home field advantage didn’t lead to widespread expectation that the Wolverines would get the job done.
But that’s exactly what happened, as Harbaugh got the scarlet and gray monkey off his back with his first win over the archrival Buckeyes as head coach. It wasn’t even all that close, as Michigan pulled away in the second half to separate for a 42-27 win over the No. 2 team in the country.
“It was super important, there’s no question about it. I'm happy. I'm happy that our players got that experience,” Harbaugh said. “Mostly that's where that happiness comes from. It is part of the transformational process, that our players learn that, yeah, there's big challenges, there's obstacles in the game of football and in life, and I think they learned with the right approach with the right work ethic, with the right team-first mentality and teamwork. You can make anything happen. You can bring anything to life.”
Frigid temperatures and snowfall didn’t aid a pass-happy Buckeye offense in the affair, and Ohio State players subsequently cited an outbreak of the flu in the leadup to the game that sidelined a number of Buckeye players during the preceding week of practice. On the other side, Michigan questioned Ohio State’s toughness and referred to the Buckeyes as a “finesse team.”
Both sides will have a chance to prove their points in 2022, as the rivalry game will be as hotly anticipated as ever – especially if major postseason implications are up for grabs once again. Ohio State figures to be the team with a chip on its shoulder, though, and it will have the support of its home fans in a matchup against Michigan for the first time since 2018.
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara was not yet a high school graduate when that contest took place four years ago, but he stood firm at Big Ten Media Days that the location of the game won’t be the determining factor in its outcome.
“I visited the Shoe when I was in like seventh grade, just walked around it. I’ve heard plenty about it,” McNamara said. Tuesday. “I’ll be looking forward to it. … I’m sure it’ll be pretty loud and I’m sure it’ll be a lot of red. I’m excited. I’ve never been able to witness it, but I’m sure it’s a pretty sweet atmosphere. Yeah, it’ll be fun.”
Wolverine tight end Erick All hasn’t played in the Shoe either, but he knew more than most about the rivalry out of high school as a Fairfield, Ohio, native. All said he “wasn’t surprised” by the outcome of last year’s matchup, citing extensive film study of the Buckeyes’ style of play. All took particular pleasure in beating Ohio State in 2021, and he hopes to do the same when he returns to his home state in November.
“It's gonna be great,” All said at Big Ten Media Days. “I love playing away so going back there, going over there to play the game, it's not gonna be much different than playing it at the Big House.”
A year ago, Michigan’s win over Ohio State unlocked all of its postseason aspirations in the form of a Big Ten Championship Game berth (and win) and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes hope to reclaim their spot on those stages with a win over Michigan in 2022, but the Wolverines have all of the same goals once again this year.
Only this time, they’ll have to go through Columbus to achieve them.
“We’re gonna worry about everyone on our schedule, but obviously our goals are to beat Ohio State, beat Michigan State in the same season, win a Big Ten title and win a national championship,” McNamara said.