If Jim Harbaugh and Michigan can finally beat Ohio State, the Wolverines will represent the East in the Big Ten title game and will likely be the favorite to win the conference and therefore go on to the College Football Playoff. This is not just a must-win game for Jim Harbaugh, this is THE must-win game for Jim Harbaugh. Everything is on the line, including one of the most damning narratives surrounding U-M's coach in year seven.
I’ve been struggling with this one for the better part of the week. On one hand, I really like what this Michigan Football team has become over the last eleven weeks. On the other hand, I told myself after the loss in East Lansing that I would never make the mistake of picking against my gut again. I lied. Conventional wisdom and a quick look at the results over the last two decades says the Buckeyes win this one - and likely do so convincingly. However, nothing about Michigan’s season up to this point has been “conventional” and I don’t expect Saturday to be conventional either.
The Wolverines have clawed their way to a 10-1 record and stand one game away from their first trip ever to Indy for a shot at the Big Ten Championship. They’ve invested too much to come up short now.
Michigan 27, Ohio State 23
Ohio State is favored by just seven points in this edition of The Game, which seems to indicate that it could be close. I do think Michigan is going to show up, play hard and try to stay in the fight, I just think Ohio State is too good on offense. I like Michigan’s defense, I like what Mike Macdonald has done this year and I like the leadership and on-field play on that side of the ball, but I just think Ohio State scores too much and too easily. The only way I see Michigan being able to win the game is to win the turnover battle by quite a bit. If that doesn’t happen, I just don’t think OSU will be slowed down very often.
Ohio State 42, Michigan 20
It is really easy to argue that each time a Michigan player or coach has spoken about how this team is ‘different,’ they have been gesturing towards this week’s matchup. Saturday’s top-five matchup between No. 5 Michigan and No. 2 Ohio State has loomed large over the Wolverines’ season since before this iteration of “The Game’s” playoff implications even began to materialize. And yet, here we are: Michigan’s seniors, fifth-years, and sixth-years, none of which have ever beaten Ohio State, will have their final opportunity against what is arguably the nation’s most terrifying offense.
Michigan’s defense really does seem ready; Aidan Hutchinson and Co. have been building steam all season. In the end, though, the odds that any sub-perfect performance from the Wolverines would be enough to stop CJ Stroud and the Buckeyes more than once or twice appear slim to none. This team has proven itself to be different, but I don’t think it will be enough.
Ohio State 42, Michigan 38
The Game. It’s been talked about since July and ultimately, despite some bumps along the way, Michigan couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. They have a chance to beat the Buckeyes and make the Big Ten Championship Game — both things Jim Harbaugh has failed to do in his tenure so far.
The narrative that this year is different has practically been beaten to death at this point, but it's still worth revisiting. This Michigan team has overcome fourth quarter deficits in hostile road environments against Penn State and Nebraska. They’ve re-found their defensive identity under first year coordinator Mike MacDonald and boast the seventh best scoring defense in the country. They did lose a heartbreaker to Michigan State, but they’ve responded to adversity with three straight wins since.
I’ve been a lot more torn about this pick than I thought I would be immediately after Ohio State’s demoralizing 56-7 defeat of MSU. I think Michigan has a better secondary than the Spartans and can actually slow down the Buckeyes trio of wideouts but the question is, can the Wolverines do enough on offense to move the ball and keep Ohio State off the field? I’m not so sure. The Wolverines' usually-potent running attack could be stifled against the Buckeyes’ 11th ranked rush defense. If that’s the case, then it falls on Cade McNamara to move it through the air and if it comes down to him vs Heisman candidate CJ Stroud to make enough plays to win the game, I think Stroud is more ready for the moment.
Harbaugh said they’d beat Ohio State or die trying. They’re going to leave it all on the field but I think they come up just a tad short. I don’t think it's a blowout. This game is more likely one that rips your heart out.
Ohio State 27, Michigan 24