COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Once upon a time, "The Game" was just another game.
When Michigan and Ohio State played, sure, it was important. After all, the schools put it at the end of their schedules in 1935 in recognition of that fact.
But it never really was an epic battle until two longtime friends ended up on opposite sides and transformed it into an over-the-top grudge match.
"The Bo Schembechler/Woody Hayes era, when college football began to explode on a national level — that's what made this such a visual rivalry for the country to see," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
Now, more than 40 years later, two coaches steeped in the rivalry — each more than willing to toss a little disrespect toward the other side — will be prowling the sidelines in the 109th meeting on Saturday.
Is this the second coming of the "Ten Year War"?
"It's a new face for the rivalry, of course, but the rivalry is bigger than any one individual," said Michigan offensive lineman Patrick Omahmeh.
Just like Schembechler and Hayes, Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke are ultra-competitive Ohio natives who don't hide the fact that they can barely abide their chief rival.
Hoke refers to Ohio State as just "Ohio," which makes Buckeyes fans' blood boil. Meyer has taken a page from Hayes and refuses to utter the "M-word," instead calling it "That Team Up North."
A chippiness has returned to this staid old annual showdown. It was already evident a year ago when the sides traded shoves, obscenities and taunts in Hoke's first game (a 40-34 victory) as a head coach in the series.
It's even more palpable this year with Meyer joining the fray, 25 years after he was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce's staff and learned firsthand from Hayes, Bruce and the others to despise the Wolverines.
Hoke is not sold on the theory that the head coaches, at least since the last of the 10 Schembechler-Hayes battles in 1978, have much influence on the rivalry. But he does agree that it doesn't hurt when both "get" what the game means to so many.
"There's a lot of passion on both sides," he said. "When you've kind of grown up in the rivalry — either in the state of Ohio or in the state of Michigan — you understand it's the most important game of the year."
Adding to the enmity this year — so often the case — is both sides having a lot riding on the outcome.
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) want to complete a perfect season — if perfection is even possible without going to a bowl. NCAA sanctions have sidelined Ohio State from the national championship conversation.
The Buckeyes have already won the Big Ten's Leaders Division, but cannot play in the title game next week. They will get a trophy and each of the players will be fitted for championship rings.
The No. 20 Wolverines (8-3, 6-1) are shooting to upgrade to an even better bowl. No one in maize and blue is saying it, but upsetting the Buckeyes' dreams of an unbeaten, untied season wouldn't be so bad, either.
The Wolverines were hoping to grab a spot in the Big Ten championship game, but No. 17 Nebraska — which owned the tie-breaker by virtue of its win over Michigan — beat Iowa 13-7 on Friday to represent the Legends Division. The Wolverines, who had playing in the title game as one of their major goals, can still grab a share of the division crown with a win over the Buckeyes.
Michigan's hopes rise and fall on a defense that leads the nation against the pass but is considerably less stout against the run — which happens to be Ohio State's strength.
The Buckeyes depend on quarterback Braxton Miller's legs, whether on set plays or when a pass play breaks down and he sprints past lunging linemen through the heart of the field for big yardage.
The Wolverines also rely on their quarterback. Now they just have to figure out who their quarterback is.
Devin Gardner has started the last three games, accounting for at least three TDs in each, since four-year star Denard Robinson hurt a nerve in his throwing elbow. Now Robinson may see time at tailback, in the slot, out wide or even under center. It's the biggest mystery in a game where there are few unknowns.
"I'm here and I'm ready for Ohio," Robinson said.
Hayes once co-wrote a book titled, "You Win With People." He believed that it was the coach's domain to stockpile talent and then put players in the best position to win, but that the athletes did the rest.
Meyer believes coaches handle the preparation and set the tone.
"Getting your guys prepared up to the kickoff, getting the team mentally and physically ready to go," he said of his role. "Ultimately it is the players who win or lose games."
Spoken just like his iconic predecessors.
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap
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2002: Ohio State 14, Michigan 9
Needing to beat Michigan to complete its perfect regular season, Ohio State rode running back Maurice Clarett over the Wolverines and into the BCS Title game. The Buckeyes went on to beat Miami in the championship game to become the first Division I team to finish 14-0.
1974: Ohio State 12, Michigan 10
In a low-scoring battle, Ohio State out-kicked Michigan. Buckeyes kicker Tom Klaban nailed four field goals. Michigan's Mike Lantry had a chance to give the Wolverines the lead with 16 seconds remaining.<a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/brennan/2004-11-18-brennan_x.htm"> But even though it took a little while for the referees to make the call</a>, his 33-yard field goal attempt was no good.
1950: Michigan 9, Ohio State 3
In the famed "Snow Bowl," Ohio State and Michigan battled shortly after Columbus was hit by its <a href="http://library.osu.edu/projects/OSUvsMichigan/snowbowl.html">worst blizzard in 37 years.</a> Michigan scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and went on to win 9-3.
1995: Michigan 31, Ohio State 23
Michigan fans will always remember the name <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/sports/um-football/catching-up-with-former-michigan-running-back-tim-biakabutuka/">Tshimanga Biakabutuka</a>. The Wolverines running back outshined eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, rushing for 313 yards and a touchdown as Michigan went on to win 31-23.
1991: Michigan 31, Ohio State 3
Despite the game being a blowout win for the Wolverines, the 1991 matchup provided one of the most iconic images in college football history when Desmond Howard did the Heisman Trophy pose after returning a punt for a touchdown.
1973: Tied At 10
The Michigan-Ohio State game in 1973 ended in a 10-10 tie. But it might be more memorable due to the Buckeyes tearing down the Michigan banner on their way into the stadium.
1986: Michigan 26, Ohio State 24
Michigan quarterback <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2007-11-13-3885402658_x.htm">Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a victory</a> before the game. Despite Ohio State jumping out to a 14-3 lead, UM running back Jamie Morris took over, rushing for <a href="http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=ycn-7192462">210 yards </a> and leading the Wolverines to a narrow 26-24 win.
1997: Michigan 20, Ohio State 14
Just call this one the Charles Woodson show. The Heisman Trophy winner shut down Ohio State's David Boston, returned a punt for a touchdown to lead the Wolverines past the Buckeyes.
1969: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12
Going into this game, the Buckeyes were 8-0. Per<a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/columns/story?columnist=maisel_ivan&id=2665659"> ESPN's Ivan Maisel,</a> Ohio State hadn't scored fewer than 34 points in any game and only allowed a total of 69 points in the season. But Michigan came out on top and won 24-12.
2004: Ohio State 37, Michigan 21
From the score it may not seem like the most exciting Ohio State-Michigan game. But given that the <a href="http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=243250194">No. 7 Wolverines were 9-1 and favored </a>over their 6-4 rivals, a blowout for the Buckeyes was quite unexpected.
1987: Ohio State 23, Michigan 20
Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce had been fired a week before the game -- <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1987-11-17/sports/sp-22143_1_bruce">with Athletic Director Rick Bay quitting in protest</a> -- but was allowed to coach the finale against Michigan. The Buckeyes rallied back from 13 down in the second half to <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/osu-michigan/2012/03/osu-michigan_1987_buckeyes_out.html">win 23-20.</a>
2006: Ohio State 42, Michigan 39
In this classic matchup dubbhed "<a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/sports/college&id=4753181">The Game Of The Century</a>," the No. 1 Buckeyes barely squeaked by No. 2 Michigan in a shootout that produced a series-high 81 points. With the narrow win, Ohio State earned a trip to the BCS Title game.