Saturday’s game will be the biggest Michigan football game in at least 12 years. For Ohio State, it won’t even approach the top 10.
That’s not to say the Buckeyes don’t care about Saturday’s game; obviously, they do. Instead, it is to say the pressure will be disproportionately slanted toward one side. The line opened at Michigan -4, and that’s properly indicative of which team has looked better all year.
But what, in the recent history of Michigan football, leads you to believe this program is capable of handling that pressure?
Take the 2016 game, for example. Forget the JT Barrett play for a moment. The Wolverines entered the fourth quarter up 17-14, then gained a total of five yards in the fourth quarter, neglecting every chance to put the game away.
Take the 2012 game for another. Michigan entered halftime up 21-20. In the second half Michigan failed to cross midfield, turned the ball over three times and didn’t score.
How about 2007? The Wolverines came into the home game having a chance to claim the Big Ten with a win, then scored just 3 points all afternoon.
Let’s revisit 2004. Michigan was favored heading into a matchup against an Ohio State team that was 3-4 in conference play. The Wolverines led 14-7 after the first quarter then got their doors blown off — giving up 27 unanswered points in a blowout loss.
The Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since 2000 and have beaten Ohio State just three times since the turn of the century. There’s a foundational reason for that beyond “Ohio State is usually better.” This game has devolved into less of a rivalry and more of an annual event to breed self-loathing.
Which brings us to this year, a game Michigan absolutely should win, but a game in which the alternative would be entirely unsurprising.
There’s plenty of reason to believe this Michigan team is going to finally lay this two-decade-long nightmare to rest. It has the best quarterback in recent program history in Shea Patterson. It has an historically great defense anchoring the other side of the ball. It has a signature road win against (a retrospectively average) Michigan State team under its belt.
But be honest: any optimism is clouded with fear. Confidence is guarded with ample caution. Ohio State has owned Michigan for the better part of my lifetime, and 10 wins against inferior opponents doesn’t change that framework until the Wolverines overcome it.
Not to mention this Buckeyes team — while in the midst of a “down” season by its lofty standards — is certainly no pushover. They have a shoo-in all-Big Ten quarterback and dynamic offensive weapons aplenty; Ohio State is still averaging nearly 42 points per game. They are still a top-10 team nationally, and you best believe they will be motivated to continue the reign of dominance — and, by the way, play for its third Big Ten championship in the last five years.
Each side is coming in with predictable hymns of motivation.
“Everybody in the whole entire country knows what this week is,” said junior defensive end Rashan Gary after Saturday’s win over Indiana. “We know what this week is. So we’re going to attack. It’s been a whole year of having a bad taste in our mouth, so we’ve just got to go out and prepare the right way.”
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins told reporters he has watched Michigan play every week.
One is taken with measured confidence of a program that has dominated for 20 years. The other comes with a hint of desperation. One is the bully, the other is the downtrodden victim.
Until I see those roles are reversed on the field, I won’t believe it. For the 16th time in the last 18 years, Ohio State is going to beat Michigan on Saturday, and the hopes and dreams of this Michigan football season will come crashing down in the most disappointing fashion possible.
Editor’s note: This is one of two dueling columns published today, arguing the case for each possible result for Saturday's Michigan/Ohio State showdown. The views above are meant to present one rationale, not necessarily express the opinion of the writer.