As 11th-ranked Michigan answered questions from reporters earlier this week, each player and coach spoke in reverence of the seventh-ranked Buckeyes.
"This is a great football team, probably the best Ohio State team we've seen since I've been here," said coach Lloyd Carr, on the Michigan staff for 19 seasons.
Offensive tackle Jon Jansen: "You could make an All-American team just out of what they have."
Linebacker Sam Sword: "They have enough talent to have an all-star team."
Yet it's the Wolverines who have won eight games in a row since an 0-2 start. It's Michigan that has blistered back-to-back top-10 teams Penn State and Wisconsin by a combined score of 54-10. It's the Wolverines who have already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. And it is Michigan that has made life miserable for the Buckeyes for the last decade, going 8-1-1 in the series and continually deflating Ohio State's record, ranking and reputation.
The Buckeyes have had unbeaten seasons ruined three times in the past five years by the Wolverines. Not this year. Ranked No. 1 all season in both major polls, the Buckeyes dropped out of the national title picture with a 28-24 shocker at the hands of four-touchdown underdog Michigan State two weeks ago.
Since Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) has come in unbeaten and not solved the Michigan enigma, some of the players look back on the Michigan State disappointment as an advantage.
"That humbled us very much," Buckeye quarterback Joe Germaine said. "That may turn out to be a good thing."
Michigan (8-2, 7-0), established as an 11 1/2-point underdog early in the week, has admired Ohio State's talent before. And won. The last four times the Buckeyes have been ranked in the top-10 coming into the game, they have lost.
"I'm not going to say that all the breaks have gone against us," Buckeye coach John Cooper said. "We've had our chances, particularly here at home."
Just two years ago, second-ranked Ohio State pounded the Wolverines in the first half, running up a 220-62 advantage in yards and a 9-0 lead. But Michigan escaped with a 13-9 win thanks to its stout defense and Tai Street's short slant pass that turned into a 69-yard touchdown when Ohio State cornerback Shawn Springs slipped on the wet turf.
Ohio State is at home again, has a veteran lineup stocked with stars including wide receiver David Boston, Germaine, linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer and cornerback Antoine Winfield. Winfield contends that the Buckeyes have had more talent every year against their tormentors from the north.
Many would debate that, but the Buckeyes definitely do not have a reason why Michigan dominates the series.
"I'm speechless," flanker Dee Miller said. "I don't know what's going on."
"In '95 and '96, I thought we were just unbeatable, to be honest with you," linebacker Jerry Rudzinski said. "I thought if we had a decent day of football, we'd come out on top. And Michigan proved us wrong."
The Wolverines come in as one of the hottest teams in the country, stretching their winning streak to 16 straight Big Ten games and 10 in a row against top-10 teams. The defense hasn't given up as many as 11 points in a game since September and has scored as many points (6) in the second half of Big Ten games as it has allowed.
On offense, quarterback Tom Brady has grown into the job and comes in completing 62.3 percent of his passes. Clarence Williams rushed for 121 yards and Anthony Thomas 102 against a Wisconsin team which led the nation in rushing defense.
In a game where both teams have plenty of firepower and bruising defense, the mental aspects are magnified. One of these years, Ohio State won't expect the worst against Wolverines. One of these years, the Buckeyes almost have to make up for all the disappointments.
"As a senior who has lost to Michigan three straight years," Rudzinski said, "it's become a personal game."