For the sake of college football, Michigan needs to beat Ohio State
I’m not a Michigan fan. I’m not an Ohio State fan. But I am a college football fan. And for the good of the sport, I believe Michigan needs to beat Ohio State on Saturday.
To be clear, I’m not rooting for either team, but in the big picture, the best possible outcome for college football is for the Wolverines to end this brutal drought against their bitter rival. Well, secondary rival, if you ask Jim Harbaugh.
By now, you probably know the facts of this “rivalry”: Ohio State has won 15 of the last 16 meetings between the teams, including the last 8 (and it would’ve been 9 straight had last year’s game not been canceled due to COVID). In Harbaugh’s tenure, Michigan has only had one real chance to win, the infamous 2016 game that will forever be known as The Spot.
But as they meet Saturday in what looks to be the second top-5 matchup between the teams in the last 15 years, with a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game on the line, Harbaugh finally appears to have a team capable of at least hanging with Ohio State. There will be as much anticipation and build-up to this one as any in recent history. The winner is probably going to the CFP, the loser to a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Why does Michigan need to win? A few reasons.
For one, it’d make for a great story (and that’s what all journalists root for). People don’t tune in to watch games when they know what the outcome will be. It’s why they actually play the games on the field and don’t just simulate them on a computer. We need drama, we need upsets. And this series has had very little of either in the last 15 years.
I think everyone (except for the actual fans of these teams) would agree, it was a good thing when the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees, when the Bulls finally beat the Pistons, when LeBron finally beat the Celtics, when Phil Mickelson finally won a major, when the Colts finally beat the Patriots. I think it’s why so many in the media seem to be pounding the table for Cincinnati, even as it squeaks by 2-win teams; they want to see someone new bust up the status quo.
For Ohio State and Michigan to be a great rivalry, which it used to be, one team can’t win all the time. It can’t be inevitable that Ohio State is going to win each and every year. That’s how fan bases and general fans slowly start to tune out. It diminishes the passion. That’s why the Iron Bowl is so great; because sometimes, Auburn pulls off a stunner and beats Alabama. CFP contender Oklahoma State, which has lost 16 of the last 18 meetings with Oklahoma, is in a similar situation as Michigan this weekend.
Looking at the conference as a whole, it’s not a good thing when the same team wins over and over (and I say this as someone who happily cheered on the Chicago Bulls as they won 6 titles in the 90s). Ohio State is heavily favored to win the Big Ten for the fifth straight season, and judging by the talent accumulated in recruiting, the Buckeyes are going to win quite a few more B1G titles the next 5 years. So it would be great for the other 13 B1G teams if someone else broke through, at least for a year.
The biggest flaw of college football is that the power is concentrated at the top. In a given year, it’s just assumed that either Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State will win it all (and because of its recruiting, Georgia). No other sport is like this. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have taken up 20 of the 28 spots of the CFP. In a given year, 3 of those teams are going to make the CFP, leaving room for just one “surprise.”
Now is any of this Ohio State’s problem? Of course not. The Buckeyes are an excellent representation of the Big Ten. They play an exciting brand of football, they have ridiculously talented players and they make the conference a lot of money.
But the B1G, and the sport, needs some new blood.
Now, will it happen? Probably not. I have friends who are Ohio State and Michigan fans, and they both couldn’t believe the opening line was only 7.5, especially after the Buckeyes’ 49-point beatdown of a Michigan State squad to which the Wolverines lost. As one of my best friends, a Michigan alum, put it to me: It’s more likely Michigan loses by 21 or more than actually wins.
But that’s why they play the game. And that’s why we all continue to watch, on the off chance that this is actually the year that we’ll see something we haven’t seen in a long time. And for the sake of the most top-heavy sport there is, I hope we see it.