A year ago, in the aftermath of another dominant Ohio State win over Michigan, a 56-27 shellacking that almost felt routine, there were obvious questions about what “The Game” even meant anymore. The Buckeyes had won 15 of the past 16, the lone exception coming amid a lost year with an interim coach. Was Michigan even capable of making it interesting?

In August, when the Big Ten announced a shutdown of its season, The Game appeared destined for a hiatus, or perhaps a respite for the Wolverines. In 2020, it could be said, Michigan wouldn’t lose to Ohio State.

hen — what luck! — the Big Ten returned. Ohio State was again a playoff contender, and Michigan — oh, the less said the better. But hey, a rivalry game is the week you throw out the records, which Michigan would have been all too happy to do this weekend. In a year of utter chaos, we’d still have The Game.

And then, it was off again, with the Wolverines the latest program beset by COVID-19, with reportedly close to four dozen players sidelined by the virus and contact tracing.

Now, here we are, on the penultimate Saturday of a season that has never felt quite real, again robbed of one of the hallmarks of fall.

The roller-coaster ride for The Game mirrors so much of what this college football season has offered — hints of hope, mountains of frustration, and in the end, an empty feeling — a loss that, even for Michigan fans, stings in a way no defeat on the field would.

Instead of Michigan-Ohio State, we got Ohio State vs. “the rule,” with the Big Ten debating the legitimacy of an arbitrary metric it invented just a few months ago, back when the pandemic had only dabbled in disrupting the football season, and the notion that a team might not get six games in seemed pessimistic. Now the Buckeyes are in the Big Ten title game as the league looks for the best way to squeeze them into the playoff.

Perhaps the most jarring part of all of this is that it’s not actually all that jarring.

Yes, we lost The Game. But we also lost so many other rivalries — BYU and Utah, Clemson and South Carolina, Florida and Florida State. As one-sided as they all might’ve been in 2020, they’re still part of the fabric of any season, and now 2020 will be the year the rivalry disappeared.

In August, the overriding thought was simple: Any football is good. We’ll take what we can get.

Now here we are, and it feels pretty thin. We’ve had our moments — Lane Kiffin pushing Alabama to the brink, Clemson and Notre Dame dueling into double OT, Coastal Carolina’s thriller against BYU.

But somehow, it’s still hard not to miss those rights of fall like The Game, as lopsided as Ohio State-Michigan might’ve been. It’s a little like a holiday fruit cake. You didn’t need to enjoy it. It was comforting just to know it was there.