Ohio State, Michi­gan set for huge battle

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Mitch Stacy The As­so­ci­ated Press

Ohio State and Michi­gan al­ways have a lot on the line in their annual showdown, but this year there are Big Ten and play­off im­pli­ca­tions all over the board.

COLUM­BUS, OHIO >> Be­sides hav­ing national play­off im­pli­ca­tions, this year’s Ohio State vs. Michi­gan game is full of ques­tions, story lines and in­trigu­ing matchups.

Can Ohio State quar­ter­back J.T. Bar­rett solve Michi­gan’s best-in-the-na­tion de­fense?

Will Michi­gan su­per­star Jabrill Pep­pers be able to shut down Curtis Sa­muel, Ohio State’s do-it-all hy­brid back?

Will in­jured quar­ter­back Wil­ton Speight be healthy enough to play for Michi­gan? If not, can backup John O’Korn re­bound from a lack­lus­ter per­for­mance last week to hurt Ohio’s State’s ball-hawk­ing de­fense?

If Ohio State tri­umphs, does it be­long in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off even with­out a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship on its re­sume?

Most of those an­swers will be­come clear Satur­day af­ter­noon af­ter No. 2 Ohio (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) State and No. 3 Michi­gan (10-1, 7-1) tan­gle in Ohio Stadium in the 2016 ver­sion of the sto­ried ri­valry. “The Game” hardly needs any more hype, but it re­turns to the national spot­light for the first time in a decade be­cause the win­ner is likely to end up in the play­off, with the loser shut out.

“Yeah, we’re play­ing for it all, pretty much,” Ohio State cen­ter Pat Elflein said. “The stakes are al­ways pretty high for this game. Ev­ery­one knows you can save a sea­son by beat­ing this team, no mat­ter what your record is, but def­i­nitely the stakes are higher.”

Michi­gan tight end Jake Butt, who grad­u­ated from the same sub­ur­ban Colum­bus high school as Elflein, said he can’t wait to get on the field at Ohio Stadium.

“No. 2 vs. No 3, re­ally ev­ery­thing on the line,” Butt said. “For both teams it’s an ab­so­lute must-win game, so it’s go­ing to be a great at­mos­phere. Ev­ery­body is go­ing to be tun­ing in to watch this.”

LET’S GET PHYS­I­CAL >> Pep­pers said he has watched other teams, in­clud­ing Penn State, Wis­con­sin and North­west­ern, give the Buck­eyes prob­lems by get­ting ex­tra phys­i­cal. He and the Wolver­ines plan to test their ri­val in the same way.

“We’re go­ing to see how they re­spond with phys­i­cal­ity,” Pep­pers said. “We come with bad in­ten­tions. It’s never our in­ten­tion to hurt any­one, but when we hit you, we want you to feel it.”

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