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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

College football: High stakes in Michigan-Ohio State matchup. MSU hopes to regroup vs. Penn State.

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor with the Michigan "Block M" shown through wrought-iron fencing.
Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor will be the site of the 117th football game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. The winner on Saturday will also win the Big Ten East division title.

Michigan State took a shot at knocking off Ohio State last weekend. That didn’t go so well. Saturday it’s Michigan’s turn. The Buckeyes will visit Ann Arbor for the 117th meeting of the two football teams. Also on Saturday, the Spartans are hoping to regroup and end the regular season on a high note against Penn State.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou for a preview.

Saturday's games: Ohio State at Michigan - 12:00 p.m. Penn State at Michigan State - 3:30 p.m.

Doug Tribou: Michigan State faced Ohio State last weekend and lost to the Buckeyes 56-7. Normally, I would ask you to run us through what went wrong for the Spartans, but I’m not sure we have that kind of time. Instead I’ll ask, what did we learn from that blowout in Columbus?

John U. Bacon: Well, you almost didn't do it justice. It was 49-0 at the half. Ohio State took the second half off. Seven possessions and seven touchdowns [in the first half]. They only scored touchdowns when they had the ball, so that's how good they were. We learned that Ohio State is peaking at the right time. They are one of the three or four best teams in the country, and Michigan has got its work cut out for them.

DT: Michigan State closes out its regular season against Penn State. The Spartans have lost two of their last three games. The Nittany Lions aren’t ranked. MSU is out of the running for the Big Ten title, but what is at stake for MSU coach Mel Tucker and his team?

"This is basically a playoff game."
John U. Bacon on the 117th Ohio State-Michigan football game, which will decide the Big Ten East division title.

JUB: For the Spartans, there are a lot of things at stake, actually. Not a Big Ten title. That's out of reach. Michigan-Ohio State will decide that, but if Ohio State beats Michigan, as is expected, then [U of M and MSU] both have two losses in the league, if Michigan State wins [against Penn State]. Now you've got a battle for who gets to the Rose Bowl, which is no small prize. And either way, Michigan State will likely get one of the top six bowls, if they win [Saturday]. So, I would say they've got a lot at stake here.

And look, a 10-win season, I don't care who you are, if you're 10-2 from a team that was 2-5 the year before [and] expected to win four games this year, that is an impressive achievement.

DT: Well, you and I talked about the reports that Mel Tucker was set to sign a massive new 10-year contract with MSU. Tucker has since signed the deal. It makes him one of the highest paid coaches in the country and the highest paid coach in the Big Ten. Does the Ohio State loss take some of the shine off of that deal?

JUB: Well, not for Mel Tucker. They signed him up for $95 million. Obviously, Mel Tucker has done very, very well for himself. And, of course, Michigan State has made a very big bet going forward. We'll see over the next 10 years how that pays out. But they're not going to lose him to [Louisiana State University], as had been rumored, so that problem has been averted.

DT: You told me Michigan couldn’t afford to look past Maryland and the Wolverines heeded that advice last weekend. Michigan won big on the road, 59-18. What stood out to you about that win?

JUB: That they're playing their best football at the right time, on all cylinders. They scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, so they're playing about as well as they can. They're still underdogs against Ohio State, but they've closed the gap.

DT: And that sets the stage for “The Game.” Michigan will host Ohio State in Ann Arbor. The 2020 edition was cancelled because of COVID cases on the Wolverines’ roster. This year, the winner earns a trip to the Big Ten Conference championship game in Indianapolis. How do those stakes stack up in this rivalry’s history?

JUB: Right up there. A few of the games featured undefeated Ohio State and Michigan teams, and this is not that. Ohio State has got one loss out of conference. Michigan has got one loss, of course, to Michigan State. But this is about as good as it gets. You've got two top-six teams.

This is basically a playoff game. So whoever wins then goes on to the title game where they'll likely, I think, beat whoever [has won] the Big Ten West. And then if they win that, then you've got a shot at the four team College Football Playoff. So pretty much all the marbles you could want in college football are at stake in Ann Arbor.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned that the winner of the game between Michigan and Ohio State will win the Big Ten East division title. If Ohio State wins, it will win the title outright. However, if Michigan wins, the teams will share the title. Either way, the winner of the game advances to the Big Ten conference championship game.

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