There's a big difference between the concept of a rivalry game and a rival. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer made that very clear while speaking at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week.
The Buckeyes play in a number of rivalry games. When Ohio State takes the field against Penn State or Illinois, they're engaging in a rivalry game.
But the Buckeyes only have one true rival—a distinction reserved for That Team Up North.
That Team Up North, of course, is Michigan. The Wolverines are so respected that they command Ohio State's singular attention, but they're so hated that those in the Buckeyes' camp refuse to utter the word "Michigan."
It's That Team Up North. In Ann Arbor, Ohio State is simply referred to as Ohio.
That rivalry, rooted in a century's worth of animosity, makes it hard for anyone else to register on the Buckeyes' radar.
“It will always be The Team Up North," defensive tackle Michael Bennett added, via Briggs. "No matter what happens.”
That may be the case, but Michigan State is making a lot of noise.
That noise started last December in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes were one win away from playing Florida State for the national title, but the Spartans dashed those hopes with a 34-24 upset.
That game set the stage for this year's matchup. The Big Ten's realignment put Ohio State and Michigan State in the same division, and they're set to face off in East Lansing this November—under the lights in prime time.
Ohio State's chance at revenge is the most anticipated Big Ten game of the season, according to Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network.
But it's not just about settling the score.
Michigan State has earned the respect it's getting with a dominant 2013 campaign. The Spartans became the first team in conference history to beat each of their league opponents by double digits. They also gave the Big Ten its first Rose Bowl victory since Ohio State defeated Oregon at the end of the 2009 season.
At Big Ten media days, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller talked about how eager he is to take on the Spartans.
"This season is a night game, and night games are my deal. It’s going to be show time, go time,” Miller said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.
While Ohio State will be seeking redemption, Michigan State will be fighting for validation. Even after bulldozing their way through the Big Ten, beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finishing No. 3 in the final polls last season, Mark Dantonio's squad still feels disrespected and underappreciated.
"We could win the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten championship and a national championship, and we still wouldn’t get the respect we deserve," Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, via Rowland.
Ohio State saw firsthand how good the Spartans were last December, so there's no lack of respect in Columbus.
With Michigan State's ascent, should the Buckeyes start staying "Those Teams Up North" to properly address an "emerging" rivalry? According to Meyer, that will never happen, but the Spartans certainly have Ohio State's attention.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
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