For the first time in years, Ohio State is not the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten.
A variety of outlets have picked Michigan to win the league, including a poll of Big Ten media conducted by Cleveland.com. The Wolverines have better odds to make the College Football Playoff than the Buckeyes at some Las Vegas casinos, and ESPN’s computerized college football phrenology system, FEI, gives OSU just an 8.7 percent chance of winning the division.
A quick refresher: The Buckeyes have won the league in back-to-back seasons, and are coming off a 62-39 thumping of a favored Michigan team last November.
The Wolverines haven’t won the conference since 2004, and have only beaten the Ohio State once since then. If you’re the typical reader of this site, you know all of this already. But you’re probably okay with reading it again.
However, after a decade and a half of playing second (or third, or fourth) fiddle, Michigan is widely considered the favorite to win the league this fall.
It’s something the Buckeyes have taken note of.
“I think our guys read it, they see it. Especially with social media, it’s more available than ever,” said head coach Ryan Day.
That’s true, and the program has used previous examples in its internal videos. This spring, reporters attending a practice saw a Ohio State/Michigan highlight reel on the video board at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that included a headline about the Wolverines being favorites in the 2018 game.
Senior wide receiver K.J. Hill talked openly about the motivation that Michigan’s status as a favorite brings.
“We’re the underdogs again this year, so it’s just more fuel and more for us to prove ourselves throughout the season and then when we get there to unleash on them with everything we’ve put in,” Hill said.
But while the Buckeyes are aware of the perception that they’re about to get passed by, they’re not exactly obsessing about it.
“That’s not something that we focus on,” Day said. “I’ve talked to our guys about the expectations at Ohio State couldn’t be any higher year in and year out. We know that. But if we focus on all that, we can get ourselves distracted because it really doesn’t matter. I know that sounds like coach-speak, but it’s true.”
Day spent a lot of time on Thursday talking about how he planned to continue preparing the Buckeyes for The Game in the same ways Urban Meyer did: work on Michigan in some way every day, and treat the rivalry with respect by taking it seriously.
Day knows that bulletin board material like predictions can be a source of motivation, but in the end, there’s only one thing that really counts.
“What matters is if we win the game, and the only thing that’s going to help us do that is if we get better day in and day out and focus on right now,” Day said. “I know that sounds like cliché, but it’s truth and it’s what we’ve got to focus on.”