Ohio State-Michigan: No Case Can Be Made for an Upset
The respective rankings confirm it's unlikely No. 13 Michigan will end its seven-year losing streak to No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday, but the disparity in their poll numbers don't begin to tell how daunting the Wolverines' task will be.
Michigan could play its best game of the season and it might not be enough.
Ohio State could offer its worst performance offensively or defensively and it might be.
Your eyebrow may arch over that assertion, but consider the statistical evidence.
OSU hasn't allowed more than 21 points to any opponent, and the only two who've gotten there were Florida Atlantic and Rutgers.
Clearly, both were afforded the leeway of playing against the Buckeyes' backups.
Michigan (9-2) won't get the luxury if the outcome is in jeopardy.
Penn State is the only opponent OSU had had to play four entire quarters against.
The Nittany Lions scored 17, and needed two short-field turnovers to set up their touchdowns.
Offensively, Ohio State hasn't been held below the 28 it scored against Penn State.
And if not for a fumble from quarterback Justin Fields as he dove into the end zone, the Buckeyes would have scored in the mid-30s.
So, the most Ohio State could score fewer points than it has all season and give up more than it has all season and still win in Ann Arbor, say, 27-23, or maybe, 26-24.
But it's more likely from looking at the teams' six common opponents that the noon kickoff (Fox-TV) won't hang in the balance until minutes before the 3":30 p.m. kickoff between Wisconsin (9-2) and Minnesota (10-1).
The winner of that one will play OSU on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.
If Wisconsin wins at TCF Bank Stadium, you wonder if the contentment of winning the Big Ten West will come with an asterisk of dread over having to face Ohio State again.
The Badgers buckled in Columbus, 38-7, under a hail of Chase Young quarterback sacks and forced fumbles. Badgers' tailback Jonathan Taylor had the second sub-60-yard game of his career in as many games against Ohio State.
There's understandably been no clamoring for a rematch, not even from the Wisconsin side.
Taylor, by contrast, had 23 carries for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 win over Michigan. The Wolverines scored their only points after Wisconsin let off the gas.
That result, and the comparison of OSU's 28-17 win over Penn State and Michigan's 28-21 loss to the Lions, jump off the page when comparing the Buckeyes' and Wolverines' common opponents.
"As we’ve gone on in the season, we’ve been challenged more and more," OSU coach Ryan Day said. "This will be the most talented group we’ve seen by far."
Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't.
Penn State and Wisconsin would have rebuttals.
It's indisputable, however, that Ohio State is off-the-chart better than anyone Michigan has faced.
The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in six of the eight team categories, including scoring offense (49.4) and scoring defense (10.5), total offense (530.4) and total defense (217.4).
There's not one category in which Michigan has performed better through 11 games than OSU.
In the only two areas where the Wolverines rank second statistically to Ohio State -- total defense and pass defense -- the yardage disparity is 50 yards overall and 35 yards through the air.
The numbers make no logical case for anything other than perhaps a competitive game at the half and a gradual OSU getaway thereafter.
If so, it will be Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's fifth loss in as many tries against Ohio State and first against Day.
The Wolverines would be 9-3 in that scenario, and likely headed to a nice New Year's Day bowl.
Ohio State will be bound for the Playoff and perhaps a national championship.
In other words, the two programs will still be 200 miles apart literally, and just as far apart figuratively.
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