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Ohio State-Michigan is finally here. It could be the last of its kind #Ohio #StateMichigan #finally #kind #englishheadline


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The Game, finally, is upon us.

Ever since that snowy disaster in Ann Arbor on Nov. 27, Ohio State has pointed to this week. Everything else was a mere prelude.

On Saturday, Michigan will travel to Columbus for one of the most anticipated matchups in the rivals’ history. Ohio State is No. 2. Michigan is No. 3. Both are undefeated.

The scares each team got on Saturday – the Buckeyes survived Taulia Tagovailoa’s brilliance to escape 43-30 at Maryland after the Wolverines needed a field goal in the final seconds to defeat Illinois 19-17 – quickly faded and attention turned to this week.

Not since their epic 2016 double-overtime game have both teams been ranked as highly. The winner will go to the Big Ten championship game and is a lock to make the College Football Playoff.

But what will make Saturday’s game even more special is that it could be the last time that The Game will be for all the marbles.

More:Freshman Dallan Hayden carries load for Ohio State football in win at Maryland

In 2024, the Big Ten will add Southern California and UCLA to expand to 16 teams, and the CFP is expected to grow to 12 teams.

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) walks off the field during the second quarter of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) walks off the field during the second quarter of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

The Big Ten will likely drop its divisional format. If that were the case this year, Ohio State and Michigan would play back to back – this week in Columbus, the next in Indianapolis for the league title.

“That would be crazy,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I’ve never really thought of that before.”

In a 12-team playoff, it’s conceivable the Buckeyes and Wolverines could meet in that as well.

More:Ohio State shows some warts. Can the blemishes be covered by Michigan game? | Rob Oller

The status quo will prevail for next year, but who knows whether either team will be as good as it is this year? Ohio State will likely lose many of its key players to the NFL, starting with quarterback C.J. Stroud. Expectations won’t be as high for next year’s Buckeyes.

All of that adds to the stakes for Saturday.

“I think that’s a good point,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “When you think about the implications in the current structure, this one could be more special than something in the future.”

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) walks off the field behind Michigan Wolverines defensive back Vincent Gray (4) during the fourth quarter of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Ohio State lost 42-27.

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) walks off the field behind Michigan Wolverines defensive back Vincent Gray (4) during the fourth quarter of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Ohio State lost 42-27.

Day is too immersed in his duties to think much about how changes in college football might make Saturday’s game the last of its kind.

“I haven’t wrapped my mind around that,” Day said. “But certainly, it’ll be significant with the lack of divisions. It’ll be interesting moving forward.”

With a 12-team playoff, the every-game-is-a-must-win mentality that makes college football unique won’t exist anymore. A division-less Big Ten that makes an OSU-UM rematch possible in the conference title game might lessen the fervor around the teams’ late-November showdown.

But Day believes any Ohio State-Michigan game will have a must-win feeling.

“I would say there’s still a majority of people who are Buckeyes who don’t really care much about anything else other than this game anyways, so those are the people I think about,” he said.

Smith said that as the league hashes out a path stemming from the addition of USC and UCLA, almost everything is on the table. Keeping Ohio State-Michigan as the regular-season finale seems close to a given.

“I think we’d always play in the finale,” Smith said. “I’d push for that. No question about it and I’m sure (Michigan AD) Warde (Manuel) would do the same. Moving off this date makes no sense.”

Smith is concerned about how taxing Ohio State-Michigan games in consecutive weeks would be on players.

“No question about it,” he said. “It would be it’d be challenging, the emotional part of it probably more so than the physical really.”

But in the new college football landscape that’s coming, that could be unavoidable.

There is a small chance Ohio State and Michigan could meet again this year in the CFP. After No. 5 Tennessee’s blowout loss to South Carolina, a scenario exists in which Ohio State could make the CFP even if it loses to Michigan. The OSU-Michigan winner is a lock, as is No. 1 Georgia.

But if TCU and/or USC loses one of its final two games, that could open the door to the Buckeyes. Michigan’s weak non-league schedule makes a loss to Ohio State a fatal one for its playoff hopes.

The Buckeyes aren’t thinking about a back-door entry into the playoff. They want to beat Michigan and leave no doubt. The 42-27 loss in Ann Arbor last year still stings.

“That’s all we’ve thought about,” safety Lathan Ransom said. “We had to sit there and just let everyone talk, let everyone say what they want to say. Now we’re getting ready for the game, the big game.”

It’s one that could represent the end of an era.

“Playing them twice and then both of us going into the playoffs, I can see where that would be cool, too,” Smith said. “I can’t walk away from that thought. But certainly (Saturday’s game) will be one of those memories that will be lasting because it’s going to be the one of the last of its kind.”

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Analysis: Ohio State-Michigan showdown could be last of its kind

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