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With the Urban Meyer Era fewer than 40 days aways from kicking off in Columbus, we at Buckeye Grove- along with some help from our friends in the Rivals.com network- have decided to take an in-depth look at each of Ohio State's opponents for the 2012 season. Today, we'll be examining the Buckeyes' final opponent of the season: the Michigan Wolverines. You can see yesterday's preview of the Wisconsin Badgers by clicking here.
If there was ever a low point during Ohio State's 2011 6-7 season, perhaps it came on Nov. 26, when the Buckeyes suffered a 40-34 defeat at the hands of rival Michigan, marking the first time that the Wolverines had beaten the Buckeyes since 2004.
Just two days later, however, Ohio State hit its high point when two-time national champion Urban Meyer was hired as the Buckeyes' head coach. Between Michigan's return to the national spotlight under second-year head coach Brady Hoke and OSU's new high-profile head coach in Meyer, the rivalry between the two schools could be headed towards a golden era, and if so, it will begin on Nov. 24 when the Wolverines travel to Columbus to play in the 2012 edition of "The Game."
"Once Brady Hoke got here, really from his opening press conference when he stated that was the most important game on the schedule and he kind of got it the way (former Ohio State coach) Jim Tressel got it," Chris Balas of The Wolverine said. "You get the sense with Urban Meyer there that he understands the rivalry. Obviously he's been around it and I think people are excited to see where this goes. I think the days of the one-sidedness are over."
Returning for the Wolverines at quarterback will be the first Michigan quarterback to beat the Buckeyes since John Navarre in Denard Robinson. A candidate for the Heisman Trophy heading into the 2012 season, Robinson threw for 2,173 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011, in addition to racking up 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing the ball.
A three-year starter at Michigan, Robinson has the opportunity to go down in history as one of the all-time great Wolverines.
"He hasn't won a Big Ten championship, and fair or not, that's kind of how you're measured as the Michigan quarterback," Balas said. "If he has an outstanding year, they win a Big Ten championship, they beat Ohio State again, beat Michigan State, then I think he starts entering that upper-echelon of Michigan greats."
Surrounding Robinson on the Michigan offense are a pair of playmakers in running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree.
A 5-foot-10, 195-pound scat-back, Toussaint emerged during his sophomore season in 2011, compiling 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns. His status for the season, however, remains in question, after he was suspended indefinitely for a DUI arrest on July 21.
"Nobody expected him to emerge with a 1,000 yard season a year ago. It's unfortunate because they were really relying on him to have Doak Walker Award-type season," Balas said. "At the beginning of the year, all the talk was he just can't see, he can't find the holes and he emerged to really be a great compliment to Robinson.
After suffering through three dreadful years under head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Michigan defense bounced back in 2011, ranking second in the Big Ten in scoring, third in rushing, fifth in passing, and fourth in total defense. This season, seven starters return for the Wolverines on a defense that is only expected to improve under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
"You look at Iowa's defense, for example, and you look at a bunch of three-star guys that they bring in and they turn them into a solid unit by playing good, fundamentally sound defense, I think that's what Greg Mattison did last year," Balas said. "Now he has to plug in some guys who really haven't contributed a whole lot. Will Campbell, this is his senior year and he really hasn't proven a whole lot. He's going to be a guy with huge expectations, and a lot of people think how he goes, that defense goes."
Despite their improvements, however, the Wolverines still gave up 34 points to a subpar Ohio State offense a season ago, and this year's version of "The Game" could very well come down to another duel between Robinson and OSU quarterback Braxton Miller.
While the Ohio State-Michigan game always holds a special meaning for both teams, this year's game could mean a little more to the Buckeyes. With OSU facing a bowl ban, "The Game" will mark their last literal game of the 2012 season, which means that the OSU coaching staff will have even more of its attention focused on the Wolverines- if that's even possible.
"I don't know if you can add any more to it. And the big reason is hopefully by the end of the season there's going to be two really good football teams that are going to go play each other," Meyer said. "I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about that. I've already heard it. And I haven't made that decision on how we're going to attack that game other than it's the biggest game of the year and we will get ready for it."
The Buckeyes and Wolverines will kickoff at 12 p.m. on Nov. 24 in a game that will air live on ABC.
You can follow Chris Balas on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine.
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