The careers (not jobs) of both Ryan Day and Jim Harbaugh are on the line Saturday. Well, not necessarily, but there is bound to be something in the air besides the smell of kielbasa outside Michigan Stadium. Something profound -- and perhaps troubling -- is about to happen.
Day, Ohio State's coach, has the 800-pound Mustelidae on his back having lost two in a row to Michigan. (The last time the Wolverines won a third straight was 1997, their national championship year.) There was hardly time for the Buckeyes to celebrate Saturday after Day became the winningest coach (by percentage) in program history, surpassing Urban Meyer.
He has to beat Michigan this week …
Harbaugh has pressure of a different kind. By the end of the 119th meeting between the Wolverines and Buckeyes, he will have been suspended for half the season -- three games by his alma mater to begin the campaign and three games by the Big Ten to end it.
Though he won't be in attendance, let's say the specter of Harbaugh has to beat Ohio State. But is this some sort of walk off? More punishments may be coming from the NCAA. Michigan abruptly dropped its challenge to the Big Ten suspension last week. An assistant coach was fired. A booster is alleged to have funded Connor Stalions' sign-stealing scheme.
"The Game" long ago became bigger than the Rose Bowl, bigger the Big Ten Championship Game, bigger than the College Football Playoff.
This scandal -- already infused with the existing hate -- has Saturday's game feeling somewhere between fascinating and frightening. Forget about one side or the other running it up, has anyone thought about ordering up extra security?
Day has an excuse. It's not one he wants to use after a loss, but it's going to be out there, nonetheless. Michigan (allegedly) cheated.
That'll be one of the fallbacks if Ohio State loses to Michigan for a third year in a row. Not coming from Day himself, of course; he knows the drill. A hat trick of losses to the Wolverines won't be tolerated no matter the circumstances.
As we said, Saturday will define a season, maybe a career.
Recent events have muddied clear thinking. This rivalry reaches some sort of pinnacle Saturday. For only the second time, Michigan and Ohio State are meeting three consecutive years with each team ranked in the top five. This year, it's the Buckeyes sitting No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings and the Wolverines just behind them at No. 3.
The winner will stand a Big Ten Championship Game victory away from a CFP berth. The loser might get one, too. (See: Ohio State last year.) Nevertheless, some sort of offseason heartbreak almost seems assured -- living with a loss and/or living with the NCAA up in your grill. Quick reminder: Harbaugh is actually the subject of two NCAA investigations.
Everybody does it? No, not everybody who does it does it like this.
Michigan's 11-0 season is a reflection of Harbaugh's incredible ability to assemble a roster, even if he has not actually been there to coach half the games. It's worth asking: Why did the program ever have to go the lengths of using Stalions' expertise?
It's the old adage that never has stopped rules breakers: If some is good, more is better.
By beating Maryland, Michigan became the first FBS school to win 1,000 games. despite not being on the sideline. All that matters is win 1,001 coming Saturday.
The Michigan fiasco has just about hijacked the season for all the wrong reasons.
Make it end. It certainly won't Saturday. Careers, futures, standings and playoff berths will be impacted because someone, somewhere went too far. That's nothing new. College athletics is the scandal that always keeps on giving.
This week, you can almost smell the kielbasa.
Pour one out for these rivalries (at least as league games)
Washington State at No. 4 Washington: The best news on this game came this week when a deal was signed to extend the Apple Cup through 2029. The road is clear for the Huskies. They have to win out to clinch their -- and the Pac-12's -- first playoff spot in seven years. Wazzu coach Jake Dickert has been a vocal critic of the end of the Pac-12. Quarterback Cam Ward and wide receiver Lincoln Victor can still make things interesting. Love Dickert. He'd look great at Michigan State. The last and only other time the Huskies were 11-0 was 1991. That year, they shared a national championship with Miami. Washington has won its last seven games by a total of 45 points. At some point, that becomes a strength instead of a weakness. In 2002, Ohio State won a national championship with seven of the Luckeyes' 14 wins coming by 7 points or less
No. 16 Oregon State at No. 6 Oregon (Friday): Why would Dan Lanning leave for Texas A&M? He has a better job at a better program. Don't even get started about resources or facilities. TAMU hasn't won a conference title since 1998. Oregon has played for three of the last four Pac-12 titles. What Jonathan Smith has done at Oregon State cannot be underplayed. The Beavers coach actually played for the last OSU team that mattered (2001). He came home after working his way up through Idaho, Montana, Boise State and Washington to coach is alma mater. As they proved last year in this game, the Beavers have the toughness to beat anyone. Running back Damien Martinez is the best under-the-radar runner in the country. Unless the Civil War is renewed as well, that's 128 years' worth of rivalry gone. Poof. Pfft.
Elsewhere, in order of importance
No. 5 Florida State at Florida: This one got a whole lot more interesting when, unfortunately, Jordan Travis had his career ended against North Alabama. On the same day, Florida's Graham Mertz went down against Missouri. So, it becomes Tate Rodemaker vs. Max Brown. There is desperation on both sides. The Seminoles must win to stay alive in the CFP race. Florida coach Billy Napier would like to avoid a second sub-.500 season with the Gators. Rodemaker has thrown 70 passes in his career. Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr. ran effectively against Mizzou (167 yards combined). That could be the difference. For FSU, this looks like a trap game on Saturday night in The Swamp.
No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech: The Bulldogs are playing at their highest level since last year's CFP National Championship. How ridiculous is the talent? Tight end Brock Bowers is a finalist for the Lombardi Award given to the best lineman. That's called award poaching, folks. Bowers is as much as a lineman as I am. He is the college version of Travis Kelce. At one point, Carson Beck completed 11 consecutive passes against Tennessee. How does playing consecutive games at "home" in Atlanta sound? That's already assured with Alabama next in the SEC Championship Game.
No. 8 Alabama at Auburn: How tough can the Iron Bowl be for Bama? Auburn just lost at home to New Mexico State. No, wait, the Tigers were dominated at home. Strange things happen in the Iron Bowl? Not this time. This could be Jalen Milroe last gasp at a Heisman Trophy moment. He has 24 total touchdowns in the last nine games.
No. 9 Missouri at Arkansas (Friday): Mizzou must win to likely lock up a New Year's Six bowl. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is off the hot seat having been told by athletic director Hunter Yurachek that he'll be back. This is Missouri's best season since 2014. This game begins to answer whether the Tigers are going to be an annual force in the SEC or be a program that was mediocre (23-25 from 2019-22) The SEC's leading rusher, Tigers walk-on Cody Schrader, was discovered by a Mizzou booster working out in the same local gym as the running back transferring from Division II Truman State.
Nebraska's five-year bowlless streak could end with a win over No. 17 Iowa on Friday. Take the Huskers, if for no other reason, because Matt Rhule's pregame and postgame talks which have become epic … Tulane's Willie Fritz is 15-2 in his last 17 games. Same as Nick Saban. The AAC Championship Game is one of three in FBS still not settled. The No. 23 Green Wave (vs. UTSA) are tied with SMU and the Roadrunners. All three could host (or miss it) … also awaiting league championship game participants based on this week's play are the Big 12 and Mountain West … if No. 13 Oklahoma doesn't win the Big 12 -- thus getting a New Year's Six berth -- there is a chance the Sooners would be matched against Lincoln Riley and USC. Grab your popcorn … speaking of which, since opening 11-1 last year, Riley is 7-7. The Trojans finished 7-5 after being blown out by UCLA, USC's second-worst record since 2018 … only three teams are assured of playing 15 games this season -- the two national title game participants and New Mexico State. This because the Aggies (9-3) played Hawaii and got an exemption ... Colorado's 54 sacks allowed are the most by a Power Five program since 2012, and the Buffaloes still have one game still left against Utah … so that's it for Caleb Williams? The Trojan signal caller deserves plenty of praise for bravely playing behind a suspect offensive line. With the end of USC's regular season, let the speculation begin whether he has ended his college career
There's a Heisman race out there coming down to the wire. Going into the final week of the regular season, here are the holiday favorites.