The Game: Michigan has nothing to lose on Saturday. That should worry Ohio State
Ohio State is going to win the B1G East. Michigan is going to wind up in fourth place in the division. That’s where the two teams will finish, regardless of outcome on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
The stakes are a little different on the postseason front. Even with two losses, the Buckeyes have been tossed around as a potential College Football Playoff sleeper if they were to win out and a few other things fell into place. It still seems like a longshot at this point, but there’s still a glimmer of hope.
Michigan, however, will just sit and wait for its bowl destination when the dust settles in the Big House. A 10-win regular season is out of reach and a New Year’s Six appearance is off the table. Maybe there’s some jockeying for better a postseason bid on the line, but really, the Wolverines are only playing for a win over their arch rival.
Jim Harbaugh and the Maize and Blue have nothing to lose. That should be concerning for Ohio State.
Saturday will be as close to a just-go-play-football situation as it gets for Michigan. The national spotlight will drench the field at Michigan Stadium, but it’ll shine brighter on Urban Meyer, J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes. There’s pressure to finish this (somewhat) disappointing season with a few statement wins and work contention for one of the final four spots in two weeks.
The Wolverines get to play spoiler.
Harbaugh and Co. couldn’t ask for a better situation and atmosphere.
Michigan had an entire offseason to stew about the controversial loss which dashed its hopes of playing in the B1G Championship Game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. Harbaugh’s woeful record against rivals — including an 0-2 mark against Ohio State — has been pounded home every week since losing to Michigan State. The Buckeyes have gloated about winning five straight in the head-to-head clash.
It’s another senior class that has never defeated the Scarlet and Gray.
This is Harbaugh’s chance to end the negative perception that he can’t win the “big one,” and an opportunity for Michigan stop to an ugly streak. All of it could end Saturday, and in front of a home crowd.
Maybe it doesn’t mask the slightly underwhelming season in Ann Arbor when a playoff bid was on everyone’s mind, but it would serve as one hell of a consolation prize. Eliminating Ohio State from the national championship picture entirely?
Obviously, there’s more to winning a football game than the want-to factor. The Buckeyes own the best offense in the B1G and have been difficult to slow down for most of the season. Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins have been a difficult backfield tandem to stop late in the season and Barrett is one of the top quarterbacks in the sport.
But at times this season — maybe more this year than any other time in the Meyer era — the Buckeyes have been vulnerable. They struggled to score points against Oklahoma in Week 2 in Columbus. Barrett threw four interceptions in a blowout loss to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
Michigan’s defense — loaded on the defensive line with Chase Winovich, Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary — is more than capable of taking advantage of any Buckeye missteps. And with that nothing-to-lose mentality, Harbaugh might be willing to take more chances with his offense.
Do the Wolverines incorporate a few trick plays? Does John O’Korn — or whoever is under center — have the green light to chuck it deep a few times? Will we see a high-risk, high-reward approach to the game?
That’s not something we’ve seen much of out of Harbaugh in these important games during his three years in Ann Arbor. Might this be the time he wanders off the beaten path and develops an entirely new game plan?
For the first time since taking over, he really has nothing to lose.
Ohio State enters Saturday’s game as a two-touchdown favorite and is expected to roll into the B1G Championship Game with a potential bid to the College Football Playoff on the line against Wisconsin in Indianapolis. To put it simply, Michigan is expected to roll over.
No, this match-up doesn’t have the same implications as the “The Game” did last season. College GameDay won’t be in town for a five-hour pre-game show to highlight the biggest game of the year. This isn’t a winner-take-all scenario.
The Buckeyes are playing for a B1G title, regardless of what happens in Ann Arbor this weekend. The Wolverines will finish in the middle of the division.
Believe it or not, that might just work in Michigan’s favor.