ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football had another excellent season, winning each of their first 11 games for the first time in 16 years. But can it defeat the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes for the second straight year?
Oddsmakers certainly don’t expect it, as the Wolverines come into the game with more than a touchdown as underdogs. But that was also the case last year when Michigan ended their losing streak in the rivalry, beating the Buckeyes by 15 points.
Many of the key players will be on the same Saturday, but doing what Michigan did to Ohio State will be much more difficult in Columbus.
Although both teams are 11-0 and in the top three in the College Football Playoff rankings, metrics believe Ohio State is a significantly better team. The Buckeyes rank just behind Georgia in both FPI and SP+, two of the most effective predictive ratings in esports. Michigan is also in both top-4s, but after a small gap.
That game isn’t played on paper, though, and crucially, Michigan overcame the mental hurdle of beating Ohio State a year ago. The Wolverines will not march into the Horseshoe in fear.
Jim Harbaugh knows that controlling the clock and making some big plays on defense is his team’s way to victory. State of Ohio will Collect points – that’s guaranteed. The Buckeyes have only been held below 40 once since opening weekend, and that was during a Northwest weather anomaly.
The challenge for Michigan will be maintaining rides without a proven overtake attack. Ohio State remembers all too well how the Wolverines dominated the trenches a year ago, and new defense coordinator Jim Knowles was hired to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy has been struggling with accuracy for the past few weeks, and even when on target, his receivers have been unable to make plays. His three most reliable targets are running back Donovan Edwards and tight ends Luke Schoonmaker and Colston Loveland – and two of the three were injured.
Speaking of injuries, star running back Blake Corum — a Heisman contestant and the heart and soul of Michigan’s team — suffered a knee injury against Illinois and will almost certainly not be at 100% when he plays. Ohio State’s offense has overcome the loss of their best playmaker, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, this season, but will the Wolverines be able to do the same if Corum can’t leave?
Corum isn’t just valuable on the Michigan offensive. He’s the best weapon to keep CJ Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr. off the field. The more time Ohio State’s offense spends on the touchline, the better Michigan’s chances.
In the past, Michigan has drawn into Columbus and played well as a significant underdog – just look at the last time both teams were in the top three. The Wolverines led this matchup for most of regulation in 2016 before falling within an inch from a game-winning stop in double overtime.
As close as Michigan has come, it hasn’t won the Horseshoe in 22 years and has lost every one of the last nine meetings. Harbaugh’s team broke a rivalry losing streak last year – can they extinguish another this weekend?
As is so often the case, the commitment to this fight between Michigan and Ohio State goes well beyond showing rights. The impact on the Big Ten and the College Football Playoffs is huge, with the winner traveling to Indianapolis and likely finishing in the top two in the final CFP poll.
Harbaugh has Michigan back where it wants to be: competing for conference and national championships. But just like 2021, this year’s team will be remembered for what happens against Ohio State.
Can Michigan shock the country twice in a row? We’ll find out in a moment.
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