First things first: Ohio State and Michigan would matter if both teams were 0-11.

There’s a history of enough hate to sustain that rivalry through anything. Think of Woody Hayes going for 2 only because he can’t go for 3.

Of course, neither Ohio State or Michigan is exactly struggling. There’s probably a College Football Playoff spot on the line next Saturday, so the argument that the game matters doesn’t really have to be sold. That said, it probably matters for a couple of other reasons than you think — you know, besides the CFP spot and the burning heat of rivalry hatred. Here’s a couple more:

The Heisman Moment

Let’s be candid: OSU quarterback CJ Stroud is in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race. No, voters don’t like to give the award to a freshman. Yes, there’s a bias toward the best team in the nation. But at this point, Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young would have to be the two favorites, and the Crimson Tide have a much tougher road to finish the season.

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The numbers are there for Stroud, with around 3,500 passing yards and 36 touchdowns even after he missed an early non-conference shellacking. The prestige is there, as Stroud is probably now the face of OSU football, even on a team with an absolute plethora of offensive stars.

But the Heisman moment might not be there. Remember Johnny Manziel’s scramble score, Lamar Jackson’s hurdle, Tim Tebow’s post-game speech? There is that certain immutable something special that sets apart most Heisman winners … and the Michigan game is a great opportunity for Stroud to have his moment.

Yes, it’s an individual award, and Stroud is absolutely in the top handful of candidates, even without some definitive moment. But it certainly won’t hurt the long-term prestige of the program to have a Heisman-winning QB. Particularly if it comes at the expense of an SEC quarterback, like Young or Mississippi’s Matt Corral.

The gambler’s fallacy

Here’s another thing OSU has to prove, or more accurately disprove. Ohio State has won 15 of the last 16 games over Michigan in this series. The Buckeyes have also defeated the last 21 AP-ranked Big Ten teams they’ve faced. Each of those feels, well, unlikely.

Whatever the true likelihood of victory is for OSU over Michigan, it doesn’t feel like it’s 94/6. It’s probably not 50/50, but 70/30? 75/25? And hey, after losing 15 of the last 16 in the series, Michigan is due, right? And surely that 21-game streak feels flukish. Win 21 of those, and the 22nd game seems pretty likely to be a loss, doesn’t it?


It’s the gambler’s fallacy. This year’s Ohio State/Michigan game is independent of all previous Ohio State/Michigan games. And this OSU/UM game is also independent of those 21 prior ranked wins. So OSU’s chance of beating Michigan is the same as it would be without that recent history. There’s no reason game No. 22 against a ranked B1G foe is any more likely to be a loss against a ranked team than any other game in that streak. That’s the gambler’s fallacy. Ohio State’s success does not create some false vacuum in which Michigan is “due.”

Math lesson aside, there is a point here. Ohio State has to avoid putting too much pressure on itself. Granted, in a game with a CFP berth on the line, that’s easier said than done. But OSU needs to use its recent success in the series as an excuse to create intimidation and ultimately separation from the Wolverines, not as a source of extra pressure to avoid those two streaks turning in the other direction.

Again, it’s not like Buckeyes coach Ryan Day is going to need any extra motivation for his team. But in addition to all the other reasons OSU/UM matters, remember Heisman history and mathematical certainty. Maybe it’s not the SEC where it just means more.