Michigan coach Brady Hoke talks on the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
ANN ARBOR — The week of The Game didn’t bring the typical media circus to Ann Arbor.
The Michigan football team is about to close the end of a regular season that’s been — by program standards — subpar, and it will host an Ohio State squad that has much more at stake on Saturday.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke believes the importance of the rivalry game hasn’t diminished, either on a regional or a national level.
“This week is a week that gets everybody involved,” Hoke said. “The media, the fans, all those people. Everybody has an opinion, which is good, and it’s good for the game because the game’s talked about.”
However, there’s no question that internally there’s a heightened importance on The Game.
“We had a meeting, and we talked about everything and everybody knows, this is the week,” free safety Courtney Avery said. “Everyone knows this is a rivalry game, and if you need a big pep talk to get ready for this week, then you shouldn’t be a part of the rivalry.”
Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) is all but ignoring its recent struggles in its conference schedule, and despite being a 14-point underdog at the start of the week, the Wolverines are taking a certain heady confidence into Saturday’s grudge match.
They’re even thinking upset, given that Ohio State is playing for an undefeated season and vying for a shot at playing in a BCS bowl and in the national title game.
“I’m very confident it could happen, or we wouldn’t play,” Hoke said. “I’d call down there to Columbus and say, ‘We won’t do it.’ ”
Given not only the cost of cancelling such a high-profile rivalry game, as well as the vested interests in it, don’t expect that phone call to happen. Michigan plays for an opportunity to salvage its season, but Avery hesitated when asked if a win against the Buckeyes would serve as a panacea for his team’s woes.
“I know this season hasn’t gone how a lot of us have expected it,” Avery said. “I would know more what this win would do after the game, and after you look back at the season and see how much each game really meant.
“It’s hard to really project and to anticipate how [a win] would make it feel, to make everything go away. It’s hard to say.”
The outcome of Saturday’s game won’t negate the fact that UM has lost four of its last six games and that its offense has struggled to create consistency, let alone yards. It doesn’t erase the fact that because of those factors, there’s added scrutiny of the program.
Now the Wolverines face arguably their top opponent this season, and the matchup leaves many begging this question: Do the Wolverines have a chance?
“We’re going to play the game on Saturday, and that’s why we’re playing,” Hoke said. “This game has always been different somehow, on some level and in some ways. Are they a good football team? Yeah. Do we have to play better than we’ve played? I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We’ve got to be more consistent. We’ve got to finish things better. It’s what makes it so much fun.”
Hoke dismissed the idea of ending Ohio State’s 23-game winning streak and instead emphasized the importance of The Game to a team that seeks some sort of redemption.
“That’s not what it’s about,” Hoke said. “It’s about us playing our best football for our seniors and playing in the greatest rivalry in sports.”
Furthermore, Hoke isn’t making the idea of an upset into a priority.
“It’s not about them,” Hoke said. “It’s about us.”