COLUMBUS — Never mind that No. 2 Ohio State’s clash with No. 3 Michigan this week is the most meaningful contest between the bitter rivals in a decade. In Columbus, the game against “The Team Up North” doesn’t need any additional hype.
Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes hung the “TTUN” moniker on Michigan so he wouldn’t have to say the name of the hated state and school. The tradition continues to this day here. So does the contempt.
“We don’t like them, and they don’t like us,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said.
“We don’t say that M word,” guard Billy Price said.
Both teams are 10-1, and the winner of the rivalry game’s 113th version likely will end up in the final four of the College Football Playoff.
“We approach it as it’s ‘The-Team-Up-North’ week, so that already has its own standard and level of expectation,” Barrett said. “So as far as us being ranked in the top five, both teams, I don’t think that’s changed it.”
Ohio State will see the nation’s top-ranked defense after windy conditions forced the Buckeyes to take to the ground to beat Michigan State 17-16 last Saturday. The win came also thanks to a failed 2-point attempt after the Spartans scored with 4:41 left in the game. Chris Worley intercepted a Tyler O’Connor pass in the end zone that would have put Michigan State ahead. Gareon Conley picked off another pass late in the fourth quarter to seal it.
Michigan struggled with Indiana and the weather last week, beating the Hoosiers 20-10 in the blowing snow. There’s a good chance the Wolverines will again have their backup quarterback John O’Korn playing in place of injured Wilton Speight. O’Korn also will face a stout Ohio State defense that’s given up just 12 touchdowns this season and allowed only four rushing TDs.
“When we play it’s always going to be a battle,” linebacker Chris Worley said. “You can take the records and throw them out, you can take the seasons and throw them out, honestly. It’s all about one thing — just beat ‘The Team Up North.’”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has emphasized rivalry games at every coaching stop, and he thinks that was developed while growing up in Ohio and being around the culture of Ohio State-Michigan.
“I think that came from Coach Hayes and (former Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler,” Meyer said. “I just think that was the classiest — both programs had a tremendous respect for each other, both coaches did, and they played so damn hard.”
Elflein, who grew up and went to school in the Columbus suburb of Pickerington, said the magnitude of the annual game was drilled home for him years ago.
“It was like another holiday, I remember that,” Elfelin said. “You’d have your Thanksgiving Day celebration and there was a quick turnaround for a big party, a big celebration.”
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