- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- While Urban Meyer coached at Florida from 2005 to 2010, the Gators played as many as three rivalry games a season -- against Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee.
"You always like to say, 'That's the game,'" Meyer said. "But as soon as you say Tennessee is the game or Georgia is the game, then it's like, 'Well, LSU's not a game?' It was tough down there."
As Meyer prepares to begin his first season as Ohio State's coach, he already knows there's only one game that really matters to Buckeyes fans: the Nov. 24 finale against Michigan at Ohio Stadium.
"It's a clear, definitive game," Meyer said. "It's so much different than Florida."
As big as many of the games were when Meyer guided the Gators to Bowl Championship Series national championships in 2006 and 2008, the Michigan-Ohio State game figures to be even more intense and important.
For the first time since the 2004 season, the Buckeyes will try to end a losing streak against the Wolverines. Ohio State won seven consecutive games over Michigan under former coach Jim Tressel from 2004 to 2010 (its 37-7 rout over the Wolverines in 2010 was later vacated because of NCAA violations).
Momentum seemed to shift in the rivalry last season, when first-year Michigan coach Brady Hoke guided the Wolverines to an 11-2 record, including a 40-34 victory over Ohio State. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes limped to a 6-7 finish under interim coach Luke Fickell, who took over after Tressel was forced to resign in May 2011 for withholding information about NCAA violations from OSU and NCAA officials.
In late November, Ohio State lured Meyer out of retirement to restore the image of its program, as well as its dominance over Michigan.
With Hoke and Meyer on opposite sidelines, the rivalry figures to become even more intense. Perhaps not since Woody Hayes was coaching the Buckeyes and his former assistant, Bo Schembechler, was coaching the Wolverines has a Michigan-Ohio State game been as anticipated as this coming season's contest.
"It's Michigan and Ohio," Hoke said. "It has really never been about coaches. It's about two great schools and two great traditions, both academically and athletically. I know one thing -- we'll get our share and they'll get their share. That's the way it's always been."
Meyer won more than his share of rivalry games as Florida's coach. Under his guidance, the Gators went 5-1 against FSU, 5-1 against Georgia and 6-0 against Tennessee.
Establishing that kind of dominance against Michigan figures to be more difficult. The Wolverines bring back 13 starters, including quarterback Denard Robinson. As good as the Wolverines were in Hoke's first season, he's trying to make sure his players aren't satisfied.
"It depends how you define success," Hoke said. "We didn't have success. We didn't win the Big Ten championship. At Michigan, winning championships is the standard. We didn't have success last year. That's how we feel about it as a staff."
The Buckeyes bring back 18 starters, including quarterback Braxton Miller. Ohio State is ineligible to play in the Big Ten title game or a bowl game this coming season as part of its punishment for NCAA violations, making the Michigan game even more important.
"It was tough the first time I heard it," Ohio State defensive end John Simon said. "There's nothing you can do about it. You can't play in a bowl game so you make every game count. It's like we have 12 bowl games."
Ohio State fullback Zach Boren said the Buckeyes will shoot for nothing short of perfection, even if they're ineligible for championships and the postseason.
"We want to win every game," Boren said. "It would be very satisfying for this group of seniors with everything we've been through to go out and go 12-0. That would be just as good as going to any bowl."
Meyer will spend part of the summer researching how to handle a team that's ineligible for the postseason. He plans to talk with Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, who inherited a program on NCAA probation and was ineligible for bowl games in 2010 and 2011. Kiffin guided the Trojans to an 11-2 record and No. 6 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll last season.
"I haven't been through it," Meyer said. "I don't know. That's something I'll research. Our goal has always been to play for championships in November. You want to play meaningful games in November. That's the way it's always been."
None of Ohio State's games in 2012 will be as important as the last one.
"This year's Michigan game is going to be like the national championship game," Buckeyes tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "It will be important for Coach Meyer because it's his first Michigan game. It's our Senior Day. It's our Super Bowl."
Ohio State-Michigan has always been a highly anticipated matchup, but this season's contest figures to be even more intense and important.