COLUMBUS, Ohio — Michigan running back Karan Higdon pondered the question for a moment, smirked and glanced up at tight end Zach Gentry next to him. Then Higdon leaned forward to the microphone and predicted a Michigan victory over Ohio State.
It was the shot heard across the Midwest on Monday as the hype machine chugged to life for the 115th edition of The Game. The annual clash between the rivals is being played Saturday at Ohio Stadium, where Higdon just assured himself an even frostier welcome than usual.
There is a precedent for such prognostication, of course, albeit a generation ago.
Higdon's coach, Jim Harbaugh, famously predicted a win over Ohio State as a player in 1986 and then backed it up, leading the Wolverines to a 26-24 win in Columbus.
Harbaugh, who hasn't been able to beat Ohio State in his first three tries as Michigan coach, insists he doesn't remember much about that prediction now . He had nothing but positive stuff to say about Ohio State on Monday. His counterpart, Urban Meyer, likewise kept talking about "respect" for Michigan and the rivalry, and said he would never engage in trash talk.
If the two coaches were trying to keep the lid on the hype and bad blood, Higdon pried it off.
The question went like this: "Would you go as far as Jim Harbaugh did and guarantee that Michigan will beat Ohio State?"
Higdon thought about for it a couple seconds.
"Yeah, I do," said the senior from Sarasota, Florida . "That's how I feel. I believe firmly in my brothers, my team, this coaching staff. And as a captain, I'll take a stand. Why not?"
Maybe Higdon watched video of Ohio State's game on Saturday.
The Buckeyes allowed Maryland, behind a backup quarterback, to roll for 535 total yards and 51 points. Ohio State eked out a win only because Terrapins quarterback Tyrrelle Pigrome misfired on a 2-point conversion try in overtime. Final score: 52-51.
Meyer said there have been some "uncomfortable and direct" conversations with coaches about the sorry state of the defense, but there isn't time this week for a bunch of finger-pointing.
"We watched (the video) with the defense," he said. "It was just not good."
Fortunately for Meyer, Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. is directing the second-most prolific offense in the country. On Saturday, Haskins and Co. will run into the nation's best defense, though Wolverines defensive end Chase Winovich is injured and may or may not be available. Don't ask Harbaugh to be clear about it, either. He's not going to help.
As usual in this game, the stakes are high. The Big Ten East and a chance to play in the conference championship game hang in the balance. If Michigan wins out, it will be in the College Football Playoff. Another win over Michigan and a possible conference championship would help make everything sunnier for Ohio State after a season of inconsistency, underachieving and off-the-field problems.
Other Michigan players might not be predicting victory but there is confidence in Ann Arbor.
"It's not just our coach, we're also winless, too, against this opponent," said Tyree Kinnel, a sophomore safety from Huber Heights, Ohio. "We know that. Now we're here for this week, and it's a game we have all been waiting for. Now, we have the opportunity in our hands to go change it, and we feel very confident about that."
Ohio State finds itself in an unfamiliar position of coming into a game as the underdog amid talk that it just might not have the firepower this time to take down Michigan.
"We don't talk about those things," Meyer insisted. "It's really about the game. We have a saying around here that the most prepared team will win the game. It's not who's favored and who's not. I didn't know that, and I don't imagine our team really does, I guess. If they (do), they're looking at the wrong stuff."
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed from Ann Arbor, Michigan.