Unlike any other rivalry in sports, Ohio State vs Michigan, dubbed “The Game” was first played in 1897. Michigan pummeled Ohio State 34-0. Saturday the Buckeyes and Wolverines, college football’s two winningest programs, will meet for the 116th time. Michigan leads the series 58-50-6 with Ohio State’s 2010 37-7 victory being vacated. The programs have met every year since 1918 with both having stretches of dominance. The Buckeyes have won seven in a row. This is always the most important game on either team’s schedule and often one of the most influential games to college football postseason landscape. Some will argue a case for other rivalries as the best in college football; Alabama vs Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Texas vs Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, Army vs Navy but only The Game pits the two winningest programs in football against each other.
THE GAME: Ramifications
This season, like most, there is a lot on the line for both schools. Ohio State has clinched their spot in the Big Ten Championship but still have plenty to play for even outside of the rivalry. The Buckeye’s currently have the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings after leapfrogging LSU this week. The top spot this year is coveted more so than most because there is a perceived drop off from number three to four in the rankings. Being second in the rankings likely means a first-round match-up with Clemson that nobody wants. Holding on to the top spot could be key for a national championship run. A loss, while not eliminating the Buckeye’s from playoff contention, would certainly make things interesting for the committee with more than a handful of one-loss teams out there.
For Michigan, a 10 win season is on the line and a potential trip to the Rose Bowl. Albeit a longshot, assuming Ohio State still makes the playoff the next highest-ranked Big Ten team heads to Pasadena. A win would almost certainly vault Michigan into a top tier bowl like the Citrus or Outback if they do end up being the highest-ranked team.
As far as so-called hate weeks go, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan base more involved than Ohio State fans. They have taken it as far as to stop using the letter M in their everyday lives. Most cities around the country have decorated for the holiday’s but in Columbus red X’s have donned buildings and signs covering up the letter M not just on campus but all through the city. Even the Wexner Medical Center has gotten in wrapping newborns in Beat Xichigan blankets.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) November 25, 2019
— The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (@OSUWexMed) November 27, 2019
To really see the importance of the game though look no further than the large portion of the Michigan fan base ready to move on from Jim Harbaugh. He has a record of 49-12 since taking over the program that had struggled for the better part of a decade since Lloyd Carr’s retirement. Harbaugh has three finishes ranked in the top 15 in both the AP and Coaches poll since 2015. But in the most important stat for a Michigan head coach Harbaugh is 0-4 unable to beat Ohio State and win The Game.
Ryan Day will be facing Michigan for the first time as a head coach on Saturday, but he hasn’t given anyone any reason to doubt he’s up to the task. If not for a lapse in ball security against Penn State, the Buckeye’s had a chance to blow out one of the better teams in the country and have just obliterated everyone else they have faced this year. Day has also talked the talk and it’s clear he knows the importance of this week to the team and fans telling media “I know that this game means everything to us. Nothing matters if we don’t win this game”. Day will be the 37th coach to make his appearance in The Game with the pressure of following up Urban Meyer’s legendary 7-0 record against “That team up North”. Michigan would like nothing more than to spoil Day’s perfect 13-0 record as a head coach.
Not one but two Buckeye’s are top Heisman contenders according to the FanDuel Sportsbook. Justin Fields has the second-best odds at +1100 and Chase Young has the third-best odds at +2000. Joe Burrow the former Buckeye, and current LSU quarterback, is the heavy favorite at -1000. If Burrow were to stumble The Game is a big enough stage, it could open the door for one of the Buckeye playmakers to make up some serious ground.
Chase Young who has been a force of nature this season leading the country with 16.5 sacks was mostly quiet in last year’s game, recording just two tackles and zero sacks. He’ll look to make a much larger impact in this game. Even with missing the two games due to suspension Young has an outside shot at setting the all-time single-season sack record. Young needs eight sacks to break Terrell Suggs record of 24 set in 2002. Averaging over two sacks a game, the record is well within his grasp with at least three games left. Scary to think what he could have done had he played against the likes of Maryland and Rutgers. Still though as a defensive player Young’s chances are slim.
Justin Fields needs to put last weeks fumbles against Penn State behind him and continue to pick defenses apart. Fields perhaps has the most impressive stat a quarterback could have: 33 touchdowns to just 1 interception on the year. He has also rushed for 10 touchdowns making him accountable for 43 scores this season which ties Burrow’s production. If Fields has another big day without turning the ball over it will improve his case. Fields could win the Heisman, though he needs Burrow to blink to have a real chance.
Ohio State opened as nine-point favorites making this their closest point spread of the season. Ohio State will have to rely on its playmakers to score early when emotions are running high. The Michigan defense hasn’t given up more than two scores since they played Penn State five weeks ago. The Buckeye’s will rely on Fields legs to keep the Wolverines defense guessing. The threat of the quarterback run will open up the run game for J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague. Don’t be surprised if the first play of the game is a QB run.
Both teams, from a box score standpoint, play Penn State about the same. Each offense put up exactly 417 yards and both defenses were stout. Michigan allowed 283 yards Ohio State allowed 227 with Sean Clifford making an early exit. These two teams are two of the best in the country on defense and both have exciting offenses. The difference on Saturday will be talent. Ohio State just has too much of it. Buckeye’s win 28-7.