ANN ARBOR — The bus ride from the University of Michigan campus to Columbus, Jordan Kovacs explained, is an anxious one.
But it’s part of the build-up to one of the most heralded games on the Michigan football team’s schedule each season.
“You get real antsy all week, and I feel like I’m on edge,” said Kovacs, a senior safety. “Even my girlfriend tries to avoid me, because I’m a little antsier than usual.
“I’m ready to play physically, but mentally, we’re nowhere near ready. But that’s why we practice.”
The No. 20 Wolverines (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) close the regular season at noon today at No. 4 Ohio State, in one of the nation’s more storied college football rivalries.
Nebraska dashed Michigan’s goal of winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl on Friday with a 13-7 win at Iowa, but the Wolverines still have some incentive today: They’re a long shot as a contender for a BCS at-large berth — with some help from other teams — and they have the chance to end Ohio State’s thus-far undefeated season and its chances at winning the Associated Press national championship.
Second-year Michigan coach Brady Hoke said at the start of the week the magnitude of today’s game won’t increase simply because Ohio State has yet to lose a game this season. Second-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, whose team leads the nation in passing defense, doesn’t understate the signficance of today’s game either.
"This is as big as it gets," Mattison said. "There's no other game in college football, in my mind, like this one. If you aren't at your best and you aren't into this one, then there's something wrong. You'd better get checked."
The Wolverines will face the Buckeyes with a slightly tinkered offense — with Devin Gardner at quarterback, but with Denard Robinson doing everything from carrying the ball to handing it off or even catching it. Robinson missed two games with an injury to the ulnar nerve in his right arm, but in his return last week in a 42-17 win against Iowa, Robinson had 13 carries for 98 yards, and he could continue to be a facet in the offense against the Buckeyes.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, however, wouldn’t speculate on the potential benefits — or reveal the number of possibilities — of having both Gardner and Robinson on the field at the same time. Also adding to the fold is running back Thomas Rawls, who will take on more responsibilities in the backfield after the Wolverines lost Fitzgerald Toussaint for the remainder of the season after he underwent surgery last weekend on his left leg.
“I don’t know if Thomas has a choice,” Hoke said, when asked if Rawls seems ready to shoulder the load in the backfield. “He’s pretty confident. Most guys who have ability at this level, they’re pretty confident in their abilities.”
When the Wolverines arrive at Ohio Stadium — affectionately known by locals as “the Horseshoe” — they will not be greeted warmly.
"There's certain gestures that were being shown, all the way from 4-year-olds to 50-year-olds," defensive end Craig Roh said. "I won't say specifically what they were.
"I think it's really funny, to tell you the truth. It's something that gets me ready to play because I know what kind of environment I'm going to be in."
When the Wolverines depart today, they hope to leave with their first win in Columbus since 2000.
But Hoke doesn’t underestimate the inherent meaning of what’s now come to be known, simply, as “The Game.”
“If you need anything to get amped up more or whatever for this football game, then you don’t know college football,” Hoke said. “And you don’t understand the importance of this great rivalry.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.