COLUMBUS — Michigan is just what Luke Fickell needs right now. It is not an elixir that will cure what pains Ohio State, but it will certainly mask the ailments for a bit.
The OSU coach insisted emphatically Monday that nothing will detract from the 108th meeting between these two Big Ten teams in a series generally considered the greatest rivalry in sports.
The Buckeyes have lost two straight conference games, are not part of the Big Ten championship discussion for the first time in seven years, and are facing the possibility of a six-loss season for the first time since 1999.
Add to that the unsavory mix of the controversy that has plagued Ohio State since the tattoo scandal broke nearly a year ago and the speculation about a pending coaching change, and Fickell finds sanctuary in the tradition-rich rivalry.
“The most important thing is this is Michigan week,” Fickell said. “That’s where we’re focused. That’s what we want to talk about ... who cares what the records are. Just like we’ve always said, it’s a one-game season. It’s always been about a one game season.”
On the field, the Buckeyes have won seven in a row in the series. Ohio State took a 37-7 home victory on the field last year, but that game has since been vacated in the wake of an extensive NCAA investigation.
Ohio State could be playing to enhance a potential bowl bid, or to harm Michigan’s chances of landing a trip to a BCS game this year, but Fickell rejects that approach, seeing only a fire that needs no additional fuel.
“No. No. It’s been about Michigan. It will be about Michigan,” Fickell said. “Everything else is out of our control. We kind of had that focus from the beginning of the year.”
Michigan’s last victory in the series came in 2003 when the Wolverines won 35-21 in Ann Arbor. Ohio State senior defensive back Tyler Moeller said the seven-game winning streak by the Buckeyes won’t figure into the motivation.
“I don’t look at it like that and I don’t think the other guys are looking at that,” Moeller said. “We know what’s always at stake against Michigan. We know it’s the biggest rivalry in college football. We know we have to take it to a new level if we want to go out with a win.”
With 26 freshmen and sophomores on their 46-man, two-deep chart for the game, the Buckeyes will send one of their least-experienced teams ever out to face the Wolverines. Fickell said that abundance of youth does not concern him, since the Buckeyes are reminded on a daily basis about the importance of the Michigan game.
“Every day there’s something, whether it’s on the wall, we don’t need to reiterate it, we don’t need to talk about it,” he said. “When you start recruiting a guy, whether he’s from South Florida or Columbus or Cleveland, you talk about this game and you talk about the magnitude of this game and the excitement behind this football game.”
Ohio State senior offensive lineman Mike Adams, a native of western Pennsylvania who moved to the Columbus area when he was in sixth grade, said he did not grasp the magnitude of the series until he experienced it firsthand as a recruit who was in Ohio Stadium for the 2006 game that pitted the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes against No. 2 Michigan
“As a recruit, you don’t really know the full extent of what it is, but actually being in the stadium, hearing all of it, seeing all of it, you’re just taking it all in,” Adams said.
“I just remember rushing the field. I was seeing fans taking chunks of grass off the ground. It was crazy to see how intense and how happy everybody was when we won. It’s something that definitely shaped and influenced how I feel about Michigan.”
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.