COLUMBUS – Maybe the really big rivalries don’t require a lot of motivational tools.
At least that’s the way it appeared at Ohio State on Monday with Michigan coming into Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Last week when OSU played Michigan State, a mixed martial arts fight played continuously on the large video board hanging high above the Buckeyes’ indoor practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Monday, the only thing on the video screen was a large stationary block O.
That does not mean that Saturday’s game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan does not consume the Buckeyes players and coaches. It just means the rivalry needs no embellishments.
After 112 games between the two teams, including the last 99 years in a row and 77 Big Ten championships between them, no reminders of the importance of this game are necessary for Ohio State or Michigan.
Especially not this year, where Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) can reach the Big Ten championship with a win over Ohio State and the Buckeyes (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) could get there through a combination of beating Michigan and Penn State falling in an upset to Michigan State.
Ohio State also would make a strong case to be invited to the four-team College Football Playoff without playing in the Big Ten title game if wins Saturday.
It doesn’t take long the week of an Ohio State-Michigan game to hear someone call it “the greatest rivalry in all of sports.”
OSU offensive lineman Billy Price was one of the first to use that description at player interviews on Monday.
“I guess we’re biased because we’re in it,” Price said. “If you’re not from Ohio, you don’t really understand the significance of it.”
With 52 players from outside Ohio on OSU’s roster, the appreciation for the rivalry sometimes has to be learned or absorbed.
“We educate them on the big history moments of the rivalry,” said offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who grew up in suburban Columbus in Pickerington and always dreamed of playing at Ohio State. “We definitely have to educate the guys that aren’t from Ohio and don’t know about it.
“We use it as motivation. During the off-season we have a countdown until we play that game. So, if it’s 230 days until we play that game, we’ll do 230 reps of a workout, push-ups, sit-ups, curls, whatever. It’s always on our mind,” Elflein said.
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis is from North Carolina, where basketball rivalries rule.
“I grew in North Carolina, so I knew North Carolina-Duke basketball. I thought that was a huge rivalry. But us versus them (Ohio State against Michigan), is just another level,” Lewis said.
“Growing up in North Carolina, you either pick Duke or Carolina. When you get here, you see things like the Mirror Lake jump, the gold pants and things like that. Once you get here, you develop a whole new respect for the game.”
Quarterback J.T. Barrett said his first exposure to an Ohio State-Michigan game was an eye-opener.
“My first year I was redshirting and I went to the game there (in 2013) and there was a brawl with my classmate Dontre Wilson in it. I come from Texas and there it’s Oklahoma and Texas. But this is one unlike any other,” Barrett said.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he got the chance to discuss the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry with former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who died in 2006, but never had the opportunity to do that with Ohio State’s Woody Hayes, who died in 1987.
“I had great conversations with Coach Schembechler,” Meyer said. “Woody Hayes, unfortunately, I never had those great conversations. I met him a few times. I wish I would have been able to sit down and talk to him about it.
“There’s a mutual respect (between Ohio State and Michigan) and I learned it from those two – two of the greatest coaches of all time,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at The Lima News at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.