ANN ARBOR — The last time Ohio State visited Michigan Stadium, fans mockingly waved dollar bills and a Buckeyes team roiled by scandal was too rudderless to fire back. They will have their chance today.
Third-ranked OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) hopes to show its 40-34 loss to UM in 2011 was only a brief interruption to its rivalry reign when two teams veering in opposite directions reconvene at the Big House.
Since that day, Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus and the Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 straight games while the Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) have slipped from prominence. Nine losses over the past two seasons — including four in the last six games — have officially ended third-year coach Brady Hoke’s honeymoon.
A rivalry Michigan rekindled with 11 wins in 2011 again appears in need of life, with the Buckeyes a 16½-point favorite to take down Michigan for the 11th time in 13 years.
"It is completely different from our [last trip to UM]," OSU junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "We were going there and we were reeling my freshman year. Then you have where we are now — a really strong team that is getting better every week. The confidence is through the roof."
Many OSU players remember the 2011 game in Ann Arbor as the day they were formally indoctrinated to the rivalry. Even on a team well acquainted with losing — OSU’s seven losses that year were the most since 1897 — all the Buckeyes knew was beating Michigan. Seven straight wins over UM had made beating their rivals feel like a birthright.
"We might have taken them for granted," Bennett said.
Then the game arrived.
“When we were walking out of the tunnel, fans were waving [money] at us," Bennett said. "I didn’t have any feelings toward ‘That Team Up North,’ and I didn’t understand it until we got there. Then I guess I bought in.”
Safety C.J. Barnett called the Buckeyes’ loss, punctuated by quarterback Braxton Miller’s late overthrow of a wide-open DeVier Posey for a potential game-winning touchdown, "heartbreaking." Left tackle Jack Mewhort said the Buckeyes "don’t have amnesia about it."
"But as far as owing people, that's not as important to us as the game itself," Mewhort said. " The history and tradition is so rich that every year is a new year and you want to win the one in front of you."
The Buckeyes will be in far better position to heist the road win this time. After winning six games by a TD or less in their perfect 2012 season, they have won all but one game by double digits this fall. Miller is now the conference’s most accurate passer (67.7 percent), OSU has the most potent offense in program history (73 touchdowns), and the defense’s 36 sacks are second nationally.
Though players said winning is all that matters today, they would not mind something more. Displayed prominently in the Buckeyes football complex is the memorable photo from last year’s game of Zach Boren standing over and glaring down at Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner — the former OSU linebacker asserting his alpha status after a rattling sack.
"That photo is really cool," Bennett said. "Everybody just wants to have that feeling when you play that team of getting a big hit on their quarterback and just feeling you dominated them.”
As for a prediction, he smiled.
"It’s a good feeling to know we are going back there and we have some momentum behind us," Bennett said. "It’s a hard place to play. Their fans stand behind them.
"I’m not going to say anything to get in trouble. But it will be a fun game to get a ‘W’ at their place.”