On Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Ohio State will meet in what is the most storied rivalry in all of college football.
Every season, the storylines shift and the faces change on the Michigan and Ohio State sidelines, but there is one constant: this is one of the most intense and ugliest rivalries. These are two teams and fan bases that hate each other and what the other represents.
And, with The Game only four days away, it's time for a look at the State of the Rivalry.
The Story So Far
This will be the 112th meeting between Michigan and Ohio State. The first was all the way back in 1887 when Michigan cruised to a 34-0 victory over the Buckeyes at home. Since then, the Wolverines have amassed a 58-47-6 record in the all-time series and own a 31-21-4 advantage against the Buckeyes in games played in Ann Arbor.
A tradition of this heated rivalry is that the Wolverines and Buckeyes duel it out on the last Saturday of the regular season. This tradition has been upheld since 1935, and, since then, this game has had an impact on the Big Ten standings 44 times, including 22 instances where The Game decided the conference title for each team on its own. There was even a 10-year stretch from 1972 to 1981 when, each season, the result of Michigan-Ohio State determined which team would head to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
That hasn't been the case in recent memory. The Buckeyes, led by and large by Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, have won 10 of the last 11 matchups. The lone Michigan win came in 2011 when Luke Fickell served as Ohio State's interim coach en route to a 6-7 campaign.
The Ten Year War
The most famous era of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is known simply as the Ten Year War, during which coaching legends Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes clashed on the sidelines and raised the hatred and intensity of this rivalry to another level.
It was the classic "master vs. apprentice" setup. Schembechler was Hayes' assistant coach at Ohio State from 1958-62 before becoming the head coach at Miami (OH).
In 1969, Schembechler was hired by the University of Michigan to be its next football coach, and he made an immediate splash, winning a game that has become an iconic moment in the program's history. The Wolverines faced a Buckeyes team that was the reigning national champions and a 17-point favorite. No one outside the locker room expected Michigan to win. Yet, it was Bo that bested his mentor in Year One, winning by a score of 24-12.
This was the moment that kicked off one of the best rivalry stretches in sports history and from where the term "the Big Two and Little Eight" originated in the Big Ten. From 1969 to 1978, they either split the conference title or finished second eight times.
And Schembechler would win the Ten Year War with a 5-4-1 mark against Hayes.
Harbaugh vs. Meyer
The Buckeyes hardly skipped a beat in the Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer transition outside of an interim year with Luke Fickell and a 6-7 season in 2011, which included Ohio State's only loss to Michigan since 2003. Meyer has had a stranglehold on this rivalry thus far, having won all three games against Michigan as the coach of the Buckeyes (2012: 26-24, 2013: 42-41, 2014: 42-28).
Enter Jim Harbaugh, who was hired as Michigan's head football coach in December 2014 and already has been a highlight in this storied rivalry. As the Wolverines' quarterback in 1985, he threw a remarkable, game-sealing touchdown bomb to John Kolesar, and, in 1986, he delivered on a guarantee that Michigan would beat the Buckeyes in Columbus.
Harbaugh's hiring created buzz of a possible Ten Year War 2.0 between the Wolverines and Buckeyes. The Wolverines now have themselves a coach who, like Meyer, is one of the great minds and coaches in the sport at any level.
The two have never coached a game against each other, so Saturday will be a first.
A stat to keep in mind entering Saturday is that seven of the last eight first-year Michigan head coaches have beaten Ohio State with Rich Rodriguez suffering the lone loss in that stretch.
What Saturday Means for the Rivlary
Entering this season, Michigan fans had tempered expectations about how the Wolverines would perform and could only hope for a repeat of 1969's infamous upset over an elite Ohio State team.
As we know, things have changed since then. Michigan sits at 9-2 while the Buckeyes are coming off of a tough, head-scratching loss at the hands of Michigan State last weekend. The Wolverines are now the favorites by a 1.5-point margin per Vegas Insider.
Does that mean Michigan is a better football team? We don't know just yet, but it's no longer a prayer and fingers-crossed approach to earning a win, let alone giving them a game.
Whether a win means Michigan is "back" or loss means Ohio State continues to dominate is relative depending on the lens in which you decide to view this rivalry. Some point to the overall series, while others point to the games since the turn of the century. Others simply look at Saturday as a new era with a new variable in Harbaugh and go from there.
When it comes down to it, Michigan-Ohio State always has come down to winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl. A win over the team on the other side having conference title implications is when this rivalry is truly "back."
It is not as cut and dry as it used to be, though. With the dawn of divisions and the College Football Playoff, a win in The Game comes down to a chance at a conference title, still needing to beat the West division champion. Saturday's edition features just that, a chance, but both will need some help in the form of a Penn State win over Michigan State.
And that leads to why there may never be another Ten Year War. A main reason for that has a lot to do with what Mark Dantonio has done at Michigan State. The narrative surrounding Harbaugh's hiring to some was that MSU would retreat and no longer be relevant in the big picture.
If Saturday, and this season overall, has proved anything, that is not the case.
Instead of a Ten Year War, we are now staring at a WWE-style triple threat cage match of Big Ten East supremacy right in the face. (Sorry, Penn State. There is little chance James Franklin makes this a fatal four-way)
Michigan and Ohio State will continue to be the rivalry that it is and the one that gets the most hype. That's just the way it is. But while they slug it out in the ring, you must always be wary of Dantonio's music blaring over the loud speaker as he runs into the ring and smacks one, if not both, with a steel chair and gets the last laugh.
The Game between the Wolverines and Buckeyes is no longer the de facto Big Ten title game, but it will remain as a game that is one of the key cogs of the Big Ten and College Football Playoff race moving forward.
Throw in two rock star head coaches, fan bases that continue to jab at each other as social media expands and everything else that is on the line, and the rivalry is fun again.
Now we just have to wait and see how it plays out on Saturday.