Michigan vs. Ohio State: Last-minute predictions, thoughts & observations
Since his arrival in Ann Arbor, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has always likened the beginning of the regular season to Christmas. So, by deduction, that’d make the day prior to the opener Christmas Eve.
Excitement in the air. Anticipation. Expectations.
Harbaugh loves going through that process every fall.
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Well, where does The Game rank in Harbaugh’s world of comparisons? The annual meeting with Ohio State, and the day before, have to top any type of feelings Harbaugh experiences during the beginning of the season — right? This year’s installment is, arguably, the biggest game of Harbaugh’s tenure with the Wolverines.
The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes host his No. 3 Michigan Wolverines in an afternoon date at The Shoe in Columbus, deciding the Big Ten regular-season championship and crowning a representative from the East Division to play the West winner during the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
You already know this one is major, and for a lot of reasons.
As we creep closer to the ultimate showdown, a game that should prove to be one of the best in college football this year, one can’t help but attempt to re-analyze and process all the information that’s been thrown out during the week of media coverage. Yes, both are 11-0 for the first time since 2006, and yes there are College Football Playoff implications for the second straight season.
Are you ready yet? Only a few more hours to go until kickoff, so here are some final thoughts and observations.
Mike Morris didn’t play vs. Illinois. The DE leads UM with 7.5 sacks and is most certainly the key figure in the Wolverines’ pass-rush. Makari Paige, a DB, just made a return to the roster. Several others, including TE Luke Schoonmaker, have been out for a couple of weeks, and remain game-time decisions come Saturday.
Running back Donovan Edwards, who has a hand injury, could suit up this weekend vs. the Buckeyes. His versatility as a ball-carrier and receiver could greatly benefit Michigan.
The obvious injury to watch is the left knee injury of running back Blake Corum. Suffered against Illinois, Corum’s knee injury kept him out of most of the second half (as a precaution). Since then, he’s been spotted handing out turkeys and walking around Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor. He recently said that he’s been cleared to play Saturday. But how much will he play? Will he be full-strength vs. Ohio State?
Without Corum at full-tilt, the Wolverines won’t stand much of a chance against the Buckeyes. Through 11 games, the Wolverines have scored 32 rushing touchdowns, with 18 coming from Corum.
The Wolverines can get by without Morris at 100 percent. They can probably find ways to plug others in to make up for the potential absence of Edwards — both running and passing. But they won’t be able to control the tempo and intimidate the same way without their Heisman contender in Corum going his hardest.
What it means for Harbaugh
The reigning National Coach of the Year, Harbaugh’s stock would be at an all-time high if he were to dispose of Ryan Day’s Buckeyes. Harbaugh would instantly become a dual legend in Ann Arbor, already as a player and (potentially) Saturday as a coach. Two wins in a row for UM over OSU for the first time in 20 years, back-to-back outright Big Ten titles for the first time in 30 years.
Another CFP appearance too? Well, that depends on how things shake out and if UM goes on to beat the West champ in Indy. But there could be a way that UM could still get into the 4-team postseason without a B1G CG win. UM would need help but the potential for it to happen exists.
Recruiting would boom, obviously — and that’s one area that people love to cite when it comes to building a list of negatives aimed at Harbaugh. He doesn’t get all the 5-star talent that other coaches routinely sign. He doesn’t have every elite player — specifically QB — knocking at his door, begging for a chance.
Some of that could change with a win over the Buckeyes. Granted, it wouldn’t change Harbaugh’s recruiting style, which has clearly worked wonders in Ann Arbor; but it would certainly make the nation’s elite-of-the-elite take harder looks at Michigan.
According to Vegas, Michigan has a fighter’s chance of beating Ohio State (roughly 28 percent). The Buckeyes, per the majority of sports books, are riding at -7.5 entering Saturday and hold a 72 percent chance of toppling Michigan. Considering that Ohio State is at home and has only lost to UM 4 times since 2000 … well, it’s easy to see why they’re favorites this year (and most years). Out of those 4 victories for the Wolverines, 3 of them were in Ann Arbor.
Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000.
Considering history, injuries, recent trends and gut-feelings, it only makes sense to pick Ohio State. Wolverines QB JJ McCarthy is making his first start in the rivalry, and it’s on the road — so there is one potential factor against the Wolverines. Beating OSU on the first try isn’t a common feat for UM QBs — so there is another potential hurdle. Cade McNamara is the only Harbaugh-era UM QB to take down the Buckeyes on the first attempt.
The Wolverines have had a fantastic ride to this point, but they won’t beat the Buckeyes tomorrow at The Shoe. Look for OSU to cover the spread during a 2-score victory over their bitter rivals.
Ohio State 33, Michigan 24