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How Michigan prepared for Ohio State can win them a Big Ten Championship and playoff berth

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A week of triumphant emotions must lead to a laser-sharp focus in the Big Ten Championship Game.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan Detroit Free Press-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about the Michigan vs. Ohio State matchups in recent history are irrelevant.

What’s relevant is the 2021 version of the Michigan Wolverines — a team that beat Ohio State 42-27 to advance to the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa.

Ohio State wasn’t the first game Michigan had where adversity hit. They won a close game against Rutgers, beat Wisconsin on the road, beat Nebraska in overtime, won a nail-biter in Happy Valley against Penn State. And yes, suffered a gut-wrenching 37-33 defeat at Spartan Stadium against Michigan State. All of these games, they are part of what defined Michigan leading into their matchup against the Buckeyes. And beating OSU will shape how Michigan is defined to a significant degree.

Michigan’s had 11 good Saturday’s this season, they’ve had one bad one, but now it’s playoff time. Michigan won a knockout game against Ohio State, their College Football Playoff hopes are very much alive, currently ranked No. 2 in the CFP Rankings. For OSU, they’ll get a decent bowl game, but Michigan destroyed their biggest aspirations.

Where Michigan stands at this current moment, it’s a great spot to be in — but one slip up and their biggest dreams go away just like Ohio State’s did at Michigan Stadium. Michigan beating Ohio State was one of the best atmospheres ever seen at historic Michigan Stadium. For fans and the team, they’ll cherish those moments for years to come. However, there’s no time for the team to relive the glory, they have another task at hand — a pesky Iowa Hawkeyes team that plays fundamentally sound football, and has an incredibly well-coached team.

Linebacker Josh Ross called the win over Ohio State “a movie”, but realizes Michigan has bigger fish to fry. Beating Ohio State wasn’t the Super Bowl, it was a big win over a hated rival.

“We got bigger and better things in front of us, and it’s just exciting to be in the position that we’re in,” Ross said. “Everything’s in front of us, and we know that, and it’s just time to go get it.”

Quarterback Cade McNamara called defeating Ohio State one of, if not the pinnacle of his career, but knows they can’t reflect on that triumph.

“We’ll come back and we’ll appreciate that game after the season but for the time now, we’ve got to beat the Hawkeyes and we have to take home a Big Ten Championship because there’s not one dude on this team that has a ring,” McNamara said. “Definitely not a Big Ten championship ring. That was one of our goals that we wanted to achieve this season. Now we just have to go on and achieve the next one.”

The next one goal, the Big Ten Championship, is a big goal in and of itself — but that feat means even more knowing if they beat Iowa, they’ll have a berth in the College Football Playoff.

“Obviously just the best day of our lives this past weekend but I think we came back in on Monday and we all kind of decided that the job’s not done and that was the common message with everybody,” tight end Luke Schoonmaker said. “And you can feel it, too — just that hungriness to keep going.”

While Michigan can’t pat themselves on the back too much about the OSU win, a point of emphasis will be remembering how they prepared to beat them. Michigan had a sign in their weight room all off-season that read “What Are You Doing To Beat Ohio State Today?” — their year-round preparation has fueled the team all year long — and now they know what it took to beat OSU. They can use that same formula, one with determination and focus to beat the next challenge on their path.

“The way I would answer that is just in this next challenge, this next task, the one we just prepared for. We knew that was coming. We knew that that team was scheduled, was going to be played on November 27, and we had to prepare for it,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Iowa, we didn’t know that one was coming. I guess I’ll say that the way it does help us, we’ve gotta understand that’s the way we’ve got to prepare for this one. The same way we prepared for Ohio State — mentally, physically, spiritually. In every way we’re gonna have to do that this week in order to be successful. Because we plan for Ohio State and understood and thought they would be the best opponent on our schedule, and now it’s Iowa. Iowa’s been ranked No. 2, they’ve had a tremendous season. Now you’re watching what they do week-in and week-out, and have a clear understanding of what they are, who they are. It’s going to take the same kind of preparation. So, how does that help us moving forward? Just understanding that’s the level—mentally, physically, spiritually. Have to prepare for a great team.”

Michigan has a true ball team. They’ll go as far as their determination, communication, physicality, and execution take them. As Harbaugh said after the Ohio State win. “Greatness doesn’t fear consequences. Fearless, but not careless. Onward.”

Onward to Iowa.