It continued to be the word from the Wolverines during Big Ten Football Media Days in Indianapolis in July, and coach Jim Harbaugh’s team has taken care of business in the meantime by winning its first 11 games.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day flatly declared the Buckeyes’ loss last season “a failure,” and he has been consistent with that message as well.
“I think we’ve been scarred,” Day said Saturday. “We’ve been on a 12-game run coming off of that game, and we were highly motivated this season to get back to where we are right now so there’s been a lot of hard work — a lot of blood sweat and tears — to get back to where we are right now, to get the team to this point right here.
“So now all the chips go in, and now it’s time to go to work this week and have a great week of preparation.”
The loss last year not only snapped an eight-game winning streak in the series but denied Ohio State a chance at its fifth straight Big Ten championship and third straight College Football Playoff appearance.
Those went to Michigan instead, though their first trip to the CFP ended in a 34-11 loss to Georgia in the semifinals.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines are both still chasing the Bulldogs, who went on to top Alabama in the CFP National Championship Game and are ranked No. 1 this season.
The winner of the 118th Ohio State-Michigan game will win the Big Ten East and play in the conference championship game a week later in Indianapolis against a team yet to be determined.
They will stay firmly in the playoff race, too, but the loser might not be out.
The SEC champion, Big Ten champion, undefeated TCU and one-loss USC appear to be in prime position for the four playoff spots with two weeks to go, but the Trojans must beat Notre Dame this week and win the Pac 12 championship game to stay there.
TCU might not be able to survive one loss, either, but those are all things to worry about in December.
Ohio State and Michigan both have some injury questions heading into the season finale.
Star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been out most of the season after suffering a hamstring injury in the season-opener, and Day said this week his return is more of a hope than an expectation at this point.
Running back TreVeyon Henderson returned from a foot injury but did not look like himself Saturday before being replaced by freshman Dallan Hayden, who excelled in relief for a second straight week. Whether or not Henderson can go, Day said the Buckeyes’ other top back, Miyan Williams, could return for the Michigan game.
Starting right guard Matt Jones left the Maryland game after Hayden was knocked back into his leg on a tackle, so his status is also uncertain. Jones had already been playing hurt most of the season.
Michigan went into its game against Illinois without multiple starters, but the long-term status of most of them was not clear according to reports from Ann Arbor so they could all be back Saturday.
Star running back Blake Corum, one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates, went out in the second quarter after taking a hit to his left knee. He returned briefly in the third quarter but then sat out the rest of the way.
Harbaugh told reporters Corum’s knee was “structurally fine,” but his future playing status was to be determined.
Michigan was already without its No. 2 back, Donovan Edwards, and starting guard Trevor Keegan, tight end Luke Schoonmaker, defensive end Mike Morris and cornerback Gemon Green to begin the Illinois game.
Michigan at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410