COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer has said it over and over since the day he was hired as Ohio State’s football coach.
Ohio State has one rival, Michigan, that will forever remain its No. 1 adversary. Nothing will ever become bigger in terms of a rivalry than the final Saturday of the regular season when a Buckeyes player or coach looks at the schedule.
But the events of the last few seasons have pushed the Michigan State game very close to the top of the list.
OSU has been denied two chances to play for a national championship in the last three seasons because of losses to the Spartans.
Michigan State’s 34-24 win over the Buckeyes in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game kept OSU from playing in the BCS national championship game. Then last year Michigan State crushed Ohio State’s hopes of back-to-back national championships with a 17-14 regular-season win in Ohio Stadium.
OSU was favored in both those games. But the Spartans came out on top both times.
If Michigan is that team up north to Ohio State, is Michigan State close to becoming that other team up north?
“It’s huge,” Meyer said about playing Michigan State. “We’ve got a lot of respect, obviously, for the way they go about their business. It’s a real rivalry and it will be again this year.
“But we’ve got the main rival and everybody knows who that is. That will never change,” he said.
Ohio State junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan left no doubt those losses to Michigan State are something he and his teammates haven’t forgotten.
When he was asked earlier this summer what he wanted to improve this season, the first words out of his mouth were, “Beat Michigan State.”
Michigan State’s players say they rank the Ohio State game similarly to the way OSU’s players do.
“It’s almost there. I wouldn’t say it’s all the way there. The Michigan game is a special game for us, but the Ohio State game is too. Both are great programs,” MSU linebacker Riley Bullough said. “Each of those weeks we kind of step up our games in practice.”
Michigan State linebacker Andrew Dowell and his twin brother David, who are from suburban Cleveland, are among almost two dozen Spartans who are from Ohio.
Andrew Dowell said that adds something to the rivalry for him and his brother.
“Personally, for me being from Ohio, even when we (he and twin brother) committed all we heard was Ohio State. It was really good to go down there and get that win,” he said.
Ohio State plays at Michigan State Nov. 19.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.