60F Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
It would be fitting if Michigan's return to national prominence would include a long-awaited victory over arch-rival Ohio State.
The No. 17 Wolverines look to snap their seven-game skid against the struggling Buckeyes on Saturday in a Big Ten matchup at The Big House.
Michigan (9-2, 5-2) has been outscored 218-108 while losing seven in a row against Ohio State dating to a 35-21 home win over the Buckeyes on Nov. 22, 2003.
The Wolverines, however, have been reborn under first-year coach Brady Hoke and remain in the mix for a BCS bowl game. Their resurgence combined with Ohio State's issues on and off the field, open the door for the tide to turn in the series.
"This is a special week because you play in the greatest rivalry there is in sport," Hoke said. "When you get the chance to play or coach in this game, it's always a fun week."
From the moment he was hired, Hoke said beating Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) was one of his top priorities. A Michigan fan growing up in Ohio who later became an assistant coach in Ann Arbor, Hoke has revived a program that never won more than seven games in each of the past three seasons under Rich Rodriguez.
This also is the first time Ohio State's Luke Fickell will take part in the rivalry as a head coach. Fickell is trying his best to prepare his team for this contest despite reports that former Florida coach Urban Meyer has already reached an agreement to take over the Buckeyes next season.
"It's about a football game," Fickell said. "It's not about me. It's not about Coach Hoke. It's about the greatest rivalry in all of football, their team, our team and the history of the traditions."
The Wolverines enter this contest looking for a third consecutive victory after pounding then-No. 17 Nebraska 45-17 last Saturday. Denard Robinson threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more.
Robinson, however, is just 10 for 22 for 90 yards and no TDs through the air in two games versus Ohio State. He did rush 18 times for 108 yards in last season's 37-7 loss at Columbus.
Running back Fitz Toussaint ran four times for 16 yards against the Buckeyes in 2010, but is a more prominent part of the Wolverines offense this season. The sophomore has rushed for 558 yards with five TDs on 92 carries over the last four games, including 138 on 29 rushes and two scores versus Nebraska.
During that victory, Michigan fans began chanting "BEAT O-HI-O! BEAT O-HI-O!"
"It's exciting," Hoke said of that moment.
What Hoke should be excited about is his improving defense that has allowed 17 or fewer points in three of the last four games.
Hoke hopes the Wolverines can continue their strong defensive play against an Ohio State squad that is looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2004.
"It's something we're not used to," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We're used to being the big dog."
After being upset 26-23 at Purdue on Nov. 12, the Buckeyes lost 20-14 at home to No. 20 Penn State last Saturday.
"It's hard to swallow," center Mike Brewster said. "That's how the game goes sometimes."
Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was 7 of 17 for 83 yards with a touchdown and also ran for a team-high 105 yards on 18 carries and another score. The Buckeyes, however, were held scoreless in the second half.
Senior running back Boon Herron has averaged 70.5 yards without a touchdown in the last two games after rushing for 138.3 with two scorers over his previous three contests.
Herron has rushed 49 times for 351 yards with three TDs in three games versus Michigan, including 175 on 22 carries and a score last year.
Though Ohio State is still eligible to accept a bowl bid, the NCAA could decide to slap the Buckeyes with a postseason ban in addition to their other penalties for several instances of players accepting improper benefits and former coach Jim Tressel playing ineligible players.
Regardless of what Ohio State's postseason future holds, a victory over the Wolverines would be the highlight of a murky season in Columbus.
"It's the biggest game of the year for us," receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "It's the biggest rivalry in all of college football. To come out with a win there, you can salvage any season."