The stage is set for another classic chapter in one of college football’s greatest rivalries. This Saturday, the undefeated and #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will travel to Ann Arbor to take on archrival and #3 ranked Michigan in a matchup with massive playoff and championship implications.
Dubbed simply "The Game," the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry dates back over 100 years and has frequently determined the Big Ten champion and national title contender. This year’s edition features perhaps the highest stakes ever, with both teams 11-0 and vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The winner stays alive for a national championship; the loser likely sees their dream die on the Michigan Stadium turf.
Lead Up to This Year’s Game
Despite their undefeated records, both Ohio State and Michigan have taken different paths to get to this monumental matchup. The Buckeyes entered the season with huge expectations but have had to overcome adversity, including early defensive struggles and multiple quarterback injuries. Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines, on the other hand, returned most of last season’s playoff team but still faced doubts about beating their archrivals.
|Ohio State Preseason Ranking and Expectations
|Michigan Preseason Ranking and Expectations
|#2 in AP Poll
|Unranked in Preseason Poll
|Expected to contend for Big Ten and national titles after 11-2 season
|Expected to take step back after playoff run due to losing top players
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was the preseason Heisman favorite but missed Week 3 due to injury, opening the door for freshman Kyle McCord to make his first start on the road at Michigan State. The Buckeye defense was also uncharacteristically porous early in the season, giving up 45 points in a Week 2 win over Arkansas State.
Michigan, meanwhile, lost star pass rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo along with running back Hassan Haskins from last year’s squad. Most experts predicted Jim Harbaugh’s crew would fall back to the middle of the Big Ten pack. But the Wolverines quickly silenced the doubters, riding Blake Corum’s running and J.J. McCarthy’s efficient passing to big wins over Penn State and Michigan State.
Showdown Set After Conference Clashes
Ohio State and Michigan entered last weekend’s critical conference clashes still needing one more win to set up the undefeated showdown. The Game was in serious jeopardy, however, as both rivals were pushed to the brink.
|Ohio State’s Close Call
|Michigan’s Near Disaster
|Survived late Illinois rally to win 43-42
|Gave up 17 point lead before winning on late FG vs. Illinois
|Allowed season-high 26 points in 4th quarter
|Corum injured, missed much of 2nd half
The Buckeyes held a comfortable halftime lead, but four second-half turnovers allowed Illinois back into the game. A late defensive stand preserved Ohio State’s perfect record, but lingering questions remain about the defense entering Michigan week.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan saw their own 28-3 lead evaporate behind the suddenly scorching arm of Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito. But a late Jake Moody field goal lifted UM to victory in dramatic fashion. The win came at a massive cost, however, as Blake Corum went down with a knee injury that could keep him out for The Game.
Playoff and Championship Implications
The winner of Ohio State-Michigan has reached the Big Ten Championship Game in every year since the event’s inception. There, either the Buckeyes or Wolverines would be heavily favored over the West Division representative. But the stakes are even bigger than a conference crown this season.
Both Ohio State and Michigan remain candidates for the four-team College Football Playoff field. However, its unlikely a one-loss non-champion makes the cut this year. So while the victor on Saturday won’t officially clinch a CFP spot, they will be in prime position heading into conference title weekend. The loser can likely kiss their national championship dreams goodbye.
Beyond playoff implications, The Game will also play a major role in the Heisman Trophy race. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud had fallen behind other candidates but his huge game vs. Illinois (210 yards, 4 total TD) put him back on top. Running back Blake Corum was also gaining steam before his injury; he’ll need to return and play well for Michigan to have a chance on Saturday and revive his own Heisman hopes.
This year’s edition of The Game has all the makings of an instant classic with huge postseason ramifications. Buckeyes-Wolverines delivers once again!
Prediction and Outlook Moving Forward
Despite Blake Corum’s questionable status, defending Big Ten champion Michigan enters The Game as a slight favorite at home. The Wolverines’ defense has looked stouter than Ohio State’s throughout the season and figures to determine the outcome. Still, relying on a gimpy Corum and first-year starter J.J. McCarthy in the biggest game of their lives is far from ideal against an opponent like Ohio State.
C.J. Stroud also has a 1-1 record against Michigan and will be eager to avenge last year’s loss. If the Buckeyes’ offense avoids turnovers and talented WRs get open downfield, Ohio State seems poised to extend their eight-game win streak in Ann Arbor. This one could come down to the final possession, but I’ll take Stroud and Ohio State to stay undefeated and book their ticket to Indianapolis.
Regardless of the outcome, the victor must quickly regroup for a rematch with the winner of Saturday’s Iowa-Nebraska game in the Big Ten Championship. There, Ohio State or Michigan will be heavily favored to capture the conference crown before turning their attention to playoff seeding and a potential national championship run. The loser, meanwhile, will be left to lament coming so close to the ultimate goal in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable.
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