COLUMBUS — The date never truly mattered for Ohio State and Michigan.
The greatest rivalry in all of sport was still played during two World Wars and a pandemic a century ago. The two rivals have met at the end of the season every year since 1935 — with only one exception. The tradition dictates they should play at the end of this season, even amid the most uncertain year in modern history. But it never truly matters they date on which they play.
As long as they play, both teams will be ready.
“I don’t really care when we play That Team Up North,” Heisman Trophy favorite Justin Fields said Tuesday during a media teleconference. “I just want to play them. My answer is simple: Just beat the brakes off of them.”
They might not care, but now they know when they’ll suit up against Michigan. The Big Ten made it official Wednesday morning: Michigan and Ohio State will meet on Oct. 24 in Ohio Stadium. It’s the first time since 1933 the rivals will meet before November.
But that doesn’t matter to Ohio State.
Winners of eight straight and 18 of their last 20 against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes have plenty of reason to feel confident heading into another matchup. And they clearly do.
With a Heisman Trophy favorite returning at quarterback, one of the best offensive lines in college football and a reloaded defense, Ohio State is a preseason top-three team, up with the usual suspects, Alabama and Clemson.
Michigan, meanwhile, will be replacing its quarterback and plenty of offensive talent around him, but it’ll return a good portion of its defense — albeit one the Buckeyes haven’t had any problems with in their last two meetings.
Ohio State doesn’t think it’ll have any problems this year, either. As long as they get to play.
“It really doesn’t matter when we play them,” All-American guard and captain Wyatt Davis said. “The tradition of that game is very important to us, but it doesn’t matter. If it’s the first game on the schedule, so be it. We’re going to beat the brakes off of them.”
If the entire season was just one game between Ohio State and Michigan, the rivals would surely still take it. They have to play Michigan. There’s too much tradition for that game not to happen. And it means too much to both teams. Just ask Jonathon Cooper, who redshirted last year and had just one game left to play in his four he was allowed.
The senior captain chose to play against Michigan rather than in the Big Ten title game or College Football Playoff. Earning the gold pants meant too much to Cooper. He had to play against the Wolverines, and he even recorded a sack while he was in the game.
It doesn’t matter when it’s played. It means too much to the Buckeyes to care if it’s played in November, October, March. It doesn’t matter.
“No. Not at all. That date does not matter,” Cooper said. “It’s The Team Up North. As long as we get to play them.”
Now, the Buckeyes know the date they’ll get to play Michigan. But the date never truly mattered anyway, as long as the two teams meet this fall.