A conversation with the topic of “intense college football rivalries” is impossible to have without mentioning Ohio State & Michigan.
One of the most intense rivalries in all of college sports, when Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) walks into Ohio Stadium at noon EST on Saturday, their contest against Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) will have Big Ten championship game implications, College Football Playoff implications, as well as a year worth of bragging rights up for grabs. What glee would one of these schools have if their were able to eliminate their rival from the College Football Playoff picture? This one will be a good one folks. Here is the complete breakdown of this important rivalry.
What To Know About Michigan
A shoulder injury to quarterback Wilton Speight has his playing status in jeopardy at the moment and head coach John Harbaugh may roll the dice with Speight (2,156 yards, 15 TDs, four INTs), or roll with the Houston transfer John O’Korn, who saw his first extensive action as a member of the Wolverines last week against Indiana. O’Korn’s performance was not quite inspiring as he went 7-for-16 for just 59 yards. Whoever starts will be the guy who is handing the ball off a decent number of times to leading rusher De’Veon Smith (750 yards, 10 TDs), along with backup Chris Evans (547 yards, three TDs). Harbaugh has leaned on the run game this season, which ranks 20th in the FBS in rushing yards per game with 235.3. When it’s time to resort to the passing game, receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are usually called upon. The redshirt seniors have combined for 73 catches and eight touchdowns this season. Tight end Jake Butt is considered one of the best in the nation at his position and has 130 career catches. The offensive line, led by right guard Kyle Kalis and center Mason Cole, has allowed just 16 sacks on the season.
Statistically, there is no better defense than the one in Maize and Blue. Many would consider the unit the strength of the entire team and that wold be a fair assessment. First in overall defense (245.6), 10th in rushing defense (108.6), first in passing defense (137.0) and the list goes on. The main guy on defense is the versatile and entertaining Jabrill Peppers, who has seen time this season at weak-side linebacker, safety, cornerback, as well at occasional time at running back. Did I mention he’s the main kickoff and punt returner? Cornerback Jourdan Lewis would be more well-known if he was not surrounded by elite talent but the shutdown defender has allowed only eight catches on the season and only targeted 31 times according to Pro Football Focus. Between Peppers and linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray, the three combine for 38.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
What To Know About Ohio State
Coming into the season, the main story was quarterback J.T. Barrett taking over the Buckeyes offense having an in-and-out 2015 season. Everyone remembers his outstanding 2014 season and while his numbers show a tiny step back, he has had a nice 2016 season and is everything head coach Urban Meyer asked him to be. Barrett has 2,304 passing yards and 24 TDs along with 722 rushing yards and another eight TDs. Barrett is just one-third of a three-headed rushing attack that is deployed by Meyer with rushers Mike Weber (1,046 yards, eight TDs) and Curtis Samuel (1,440 yards from scrimmage, 14 TDs). A good portion of Samuel total yards reside in the passing game as he leads the team in receiving with 790 yards. Collectively, the offense averages 43.8 points per game, good for sixth in the FBS. The offense racked up at least 45 points on five different occasions including scoring 45 in a road win against Oklahoma in week three.
A defense that lost a number of starters to the NFL Draft this year still has one of best middle linebackers in Raekwon McMillan. The junior linebacker leads the team in tackles with 71 along with 4.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups while also providing that leadership in arguably the most important position on defense. Behind McMillan is a secondary that can contend with Michigan as the best secondary in the nation. Free safety Malik Hooker is tied for sixth in the nation in interceptions with five while corners Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore has collected seven interceptions between the two of them.
One of the most anticipated games on a yearly basis now has even more anticipation applied as the loser of this contest can pretty much wave goodbye to the College Football Playoff. A win by Michigan punches their ticket to the Big Ten title game while a win by Ohio State will need to be accompanied with a loss by Penn State as they face Michigan State on Saturday for the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten East division and head to the title game. Stay with me here.
The Wolverines have not won in Columbus in 16 seasons while at the same time, they lead the all-time series between the two teams, 58-48-6.
Both defenses are ranked within the top five (OSU – 4th, UM – 1st) and possess two of the best secondaries you will see this season. Defending the zone-read option for the Buckeyes will be interesting by the Wolverines defense but with a unit that lives in opponents backfields, Michigan has the athletes to prevent Ohio State from finding a rhythm on offense.
A healthy dose of Smith and Evans in the run game for Michigan is expected and that is regardless who is under center, a less-than-100% Speight or a quarterback in O’Korn who is has not seen enough competition this season to warrant any type of comfort against the Buckeyes defense.
With so much talent across the board, this is the type of low-scoring game that can turn out to be a classic and come down to who blinks first and makes a critical mistake. The uneasiness at quarterback for Michigan is enough to give the Buckeyes an edge at home in what is expected to be a heavyweight, defensive fight.
Score – Ohio State 21 Michigan 16