Urban Meyer fired the starter's gun... in so many words.
"It's officially Rivalry Week," Ohio State's coach said moments after stepping to the podium following Saturday's 17-16 win at Michigan State. "Our eyes are forward... let's go."
To help celebrate the 10th anniversary of their historic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, archrivals Ohio State and Michigan meet for the 112th time Saturday at high noon in Ohio Stadium. There will be as much at stake now as there was in 2006, when the top-ranked Buckeyes outlasted the visiting Wolverines 42-39 for the Big Ten title and a chance to win the national championship.
Which, ironically, they lost to the Florida Gators ... then coached by Urban Meyer.
This time, Ohio State does not control its own destiny. To win the Big Ten East and advance to the conference championship game, Meyer's Buckeyes need to beat Michigan and hope that Michigan State can win at Penn State, which has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buckeyes.
If Michigan wins, the Wolverines win the East because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Penn State.
If Penn State wins and Michigan loses, the Lions win the East.
This much is certain: All three schools are very much in play for one of the four College Football Playoff berths. Even without a chance to compete in the conference championship game, Ohio State has created a lot of buzz about getting in as a so-called wild card because of its quality victories.
A win over Michigan would be the 10-1 Buckeyes' third over a team currently ranked in the top 10. And that doesn't include a 62-3 romp over Nebraska, which was a top 10 team when they met.
"You won't hear it from us," Meyer said about discussing all of the possible scenarios and ramifications. "But we don't live in a cocoon either. I hear (about it) from the media, ESPN ... I'm glad we're in (the conversation)."
OSU offensive guard Billy Price promises that the Buckeyes' laser focus is on 10-1 Michigan and not everything else swirling around "The Game."
"The big playoff picture is all noise," Price said. "If you don't focus on the task at hand, slip-ups will happen."
Only 60 miles separated Ohio State and Michigan as they were posting their latest victories, with Meyer and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh in the same zip code when it came to in-game strategy. East Lansing and Ann Arbor got hit by wintry blasts, so both men had their teams in survive-and-advance mode.
Under ideal conditions, Harbaugh probably wasn't going to take any risks in a ho-hum 20-10 win over Indiana since John O'Korn was making his first start as Michigan's quarterback in place of the injured Wilton Speight.
And even on a dry field, Meyer hasn't been taking a lot of shots downfield with quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has struggled to get into any sort of rhythm with a young and suspect receiving corps.
The one reliable playmaker for Ohio State has been H-back Curtis Samuel. He entered the Michigan State game as the only FBS player with 600 yards both receiving and rushing and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Barrett against the Spartans. So why did he touch the ball on offense only eight times?
Barrett and tailback Mike Weber both went over 100 yards rushing against a defense geared to stop the run, but Barrett is lucky he's not in a body cast for Michigan Week after carrying the ball nearly as many times (24) as he had in the last three weeks combined.
Weber went over 1,000 yards in the game, becoming just the third Ohio State freshman to do so, and scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown in the third quarter. But he also got caught from behind on that same series on a 52-yard run, which won't make OSU fans miss Ezekiel Elliott — and his extra gear — any less.
Weber also fumbled a scoring threat away in the red zone, while his counterpart, LJ Scott, looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate, amassing 236 yards total offense. He had 160 yards rushing, including a 61-yard burst to set up a field goal and all 56 yards on an eight-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. He also took a throwback pass 64 yards for a touchdown on the game's second play from scrimmage.
"It was a tough day at the office, right there," said Meyer, adding that a repeat performance will not lead to a good outcome against Michigan. Not that the Wolverines were world-beaters against Indiana, just a week after getting upset by Iowa.
Ultimately, it took two interceptions in the final five minutes — one on a two-point gamble by coach Mark Dantonio — for OSU to secure the victory against a Michigan State team that, until the week before, had been in the throes of a seven-game losing streak.
"That was a College Football Playoff team right there," linebacker Chris Worley said of Michigan State, a 2015 Final Four participant. "In November, wins are tough to come by. You'll take them any way you can get them."
November wins for Michigan, when it comes to its archrival, have been excruciatingly hard to come by. The Wolverines have beaten Ohio State just once since 2003 and not at all in Ohio Stadium since 2000.
Last year, it was Barrett and Elliott who did a tag-team number on the Wolverines. Without his favorite sidekick, will Ohio State's quarterback be able to do enough to make his coach 5-0 in this stories series?
"Even when I was a redshirt freshman, I understood this game and all the hype that goes with it," Barrett said. "It's bigger than yourself ... it's bigger than me and all the quarterbacks who have played here."
OSU by the numbers
0: Catches for Noah Brown on Saturday.
2: Trips inside the red zone vs. Michigan State, scoring once.
4: Games in which Mike Weber has rushed for more than 100 yards, including Saturday as he became just the third OSU freshman to top 1,000 yards on the ground.
8: Touches for Curtis Samuel vs. the Spartans, resulting in only 53 yards total offense.
10: Wins in last 13 games vs. Michigan State.
10: Team-high tackles for loss by Tyquan Lewis, including 1.5 on Saturday.
12: Touchdowns allowed this season by the Buckeyes, including two on Saturday.
24: Big Ten-high TD passes thrown this season by J.T. Barrett, including Saturday's 24-yarder to Curtis Samuel.
52: Yards on Mike Weber's career-long carry Saturday.
86: Yards passing for J.T. Barrett on 22 attempts Saturday.