When the 2016 season began, Buckeye and Wolverine fans dreamed that The Game could perhaps come close to 2006’s Game of the Century. A decade ago No. 1 Ohio State battled No. 2 Michigan with the former winning, 42-39, capturing the Big Ten, and securing a place in the BCS Championship Game.
While the rankings are not as high this go ’round, there is no misunderstanding the importance of Saturday’s game between the No.2 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) and the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (11-1, 7-1).
About those Wolverines…
Michigan leads the all-time series 58-47-6. Ohio State has a winning record against every Big Ten opponent except their most hated rival. Ohio State currently holds a four-game winning streak in the series, and has won ten of the last eleven matchups (not counting the now-vacated 2010 victory). Michigan has not won in Columbus since 2000. Going even further back, the Bucks are 12-2 against the Wolverines this century. As impressive as the run has been, it is worth noting that UM completely dominated the rivalry for the first part of the 20th century. OSU went 0-13-2 in the series first fifteen games. There is still plenty of work to do for them to level the series.
This season marks Michigan’s best season in years. After opening at No. 7 in the AP Poll, they won their first nine games including contests against Colorado, Penn State, Wisconsin, and a revenge win versus Michigan State. Shockingly, the No. 2 Wolverines dropped a close game at Iowa 14-13, throwing the Big Ten East into chaos. U of M righted the ship last week in a 20-10 victory over Indiana, and look much more human in November than they did in early October.
About the Big Ten…
With one game to go, there are a number of ways the Big Ten can work itself out. In the West, Nebraska needs a win and a Wisconsin loss to win the West. Wisconsin can reach Indianapolis by either winning or can clinch the division with a Nebraska loss on Friday.
The East is much more tumultuous. If Michigan wins they clinch the Big Ten East. Penn State needs to defeat Michigan State and also benefit from an Ohio State victory. For the Buckeyes to reach the Circle City they will need to win and pull for Michigan State to pull an upset in Beaver Stadium. Due to the games’ timing, even if the Buckeyes defeat That School Up North, they will not know if they advance until the end of PSU-MSU which will not kick off until 3:30 p.m. EST.
What about their quarterback?
Michigan’s biggest question is who will play quarterback. Junior Wilton Speight has taken the bulk of the snaps for Big Blue, but suffered an injury against Iowa that forced him out of the Indiana contest last week. Senior John O’Korn started against the Hoosiers, but struggled in the snow throwing 7-of-16 for 59 yards. Despite his inadequacies, Michigan still won by double digits.
These stats underscore how strong running back De’Veon Smith has been. The senior from Warren, Ohio has rushed for 750 yards and ten touchdowns for Blue. Michigan’s defense has been equally terrifying, allowing only 245.6 yards and 10.9 points per game.
There are countless story lines to track on Saturday: Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh Round 2; Ohio State’s four-game win streak in the series; Jabril Peppers’ Heisman quest; Senior Day in Ohio Stadium… Despite all the angles and permutations what ultimately matters is that another November ends with Ohio State playing Michigan. From Paul Brown to Woody to Earle to Cooper and beyond every Buckeye wants to win a pair of gold pants by beating That School Up North.
The Playoff implications are just a bonus.