For the third time in the last five full-length seasons, the Big Ten East division crown comes down to the Michigan football team’s regular-season matchup against Ohio State. The Buckeyes have dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning every meeting besides one since 2004. Now in his seventh season, Jim Harbaugh still has not recorded a win over Ohio State, earned a trip to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis or clinched a College Football Playoff berth at his alma mater.
But that could all change this weekend when the Wolverines take on the second-ranked Buckeyes.
Can Harbaugh and Michigan finally get over the hump? The Daily football beat weighs in:
It’s been clear all season there’s an added emphasis on beating Ohio State around Schembechler Hall. Players and coaches alike have openly discussed the importance of The Game since August, and with one game left in the regular season, the Wolverines still have everything to play for.
That ends this weekend.
Across the board, Michigan is overmatched at nearly every position in this year’s rivalry. Outside of the edge rusher duo of senior Aidan Hutchinson and junior David Ojabo, the Wolverines’ roster pales in comparison to Ohio State’s.
If Michigan can’t generate pressure on Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud — the Heisman frontrunner — it could be a very long day for its secondary. Ohio State’s three-headed monster of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson makes up the best receiving corps in the nation. But the Buckeyes aren’t just an air raid offense, as true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson has already eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground this season.
So far this season, the Wolverines’ defense hasn’t held up well in second halves against Nebraska and Michigan State. First-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has shown a willingness to mix in man and zone coverages, but in-game adjustments have otherwise proved hard to come by.
If the Cornhuskers and Spartans gave Michigan fits, I can only imagine what a well-oiled Ohio State machine will do with a Big Ten Championship berth on the line. Michigan’s offense might keep pace at the beginning, but the Buckeyes will eventually become too much to handle — again.
Ohio State 42, Michigan 17
Throughout Monday’s press conference, Harbaugh and his players struck the same tone: They’re tired of talking about Ohio State. More specifically, for a group that has yet to beat the Buckeyes, they’re tired of pontificating about past results.
Sixth-year senior center Andrew Vastardis said it best: “In the past, the outcomes have just been unacceptable.”
This year’s contest presents the Wolverines with a golden opportunity to outrun their own demons, dethroning the Buckeyes at last in front of a rocking home crowd at Michigan Stadium. They can take the first step at swinging this lopsided rivalry back in their favor, while extending this magical season to yet another new height.
But something tells me they won’t.
In recent iterations of The Game, Michigan has repeatedly shot itself in the foot. I don’t foresee that being a problem this year. These Wolverines are disciplined, well-coached and avoid negative plays — whether that be sacks, turnovers or rushes resulting in negative yardage.
All of that bodes well for their chances. That being said, I think this game ultimately boils down to Ohio State just being too good. Sure, they’re not invincible, but in order for Michigan to win, the Buckeyes will have to play poorly. And that’s something they don’t often do, especially in games of this magnitude.
Right now, Ohio State is humming, and I don’t really think that there are too many teams in the country that can match them toe-for-toe. Georgia can. Alabama probably could, too. Beyond that, though, there’s likely not anyone else — Michigan including.
Ohio State 51, Michigan 30
I’ll start with this: This Michigan team is different from others in the Harbaugh era.
By my count, the Wolverines have already won three tough road games — against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State — they would have lost in previous seasons. Mike Macdonald’s defense is giving up just 306.2 yards per game, good for sixth in the country and down from 434.3 yards per game a year ago. This Michigan team has shown that last year’s 2-4 debacle was just an anomaly.
Saturday, though, provides a much taller task. Moving past 2020 is one thing. Now, the Wolverines have to move past 2019, 2018 and the six seasons before that. Every one of the last eight Michigan teams has had the opportunity to change the narrative of the rivalry, yet none have done it. Some — like the 2016 and 2018 teams — have arguably been more talented than Ohio State.
This year’s Wolverines are not, making that hurdle all the more difficult to clear. Michigan has two of the country’s top edge rushers in Hutchinson and Ojabo, but it doesn’t have the defensive backfield to contain the Buckeyes’ elite receiving corps. The Wolverines will need their pass rushers to have their best game of the season to have any chance against C.J. Stroud. Even if they do, I wouldn’t make any guarantees.
It’s not impossible. The Wolverines have a better shot this week than they have in years. But until Michigan proves it can win The Game, it would be insane to pick against Ohio State.
Ohio State 55, Michigan 33