Has Michigan football become the favorite to win the Big Ten?

Wolverines are last remaining unbeaten team in conference play

Jim Harbaugh's team has won seven straight, while Ohio State is coming off a blowout loss to Purdue. But does that make Michigan the favorite? (Getty Images)
Jim Harbaugh's team has won seven straight, while Ohio State is coming off a blowout loss to Purdue. But does that make Michigan the favorite? (Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The best-case scenario played out for Michigan football last weekend as it took care of business against Michigan State and watched its top competitor for the conference crown lose for the first time.

Michigan was dominant in East Lansing, outgaining in-state rival MSU by more than 300 yards. It was the seventh-straight victory for the Wolverines, who look nothing like the team that lost to Notre Dame nearly two months ago.

Chase Winovich and Bryan Mone celebrate a win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Ohio State suffered a shocking loss at the hands of Purdue. It wasn't shocking in the sense that Purdue isn't good enough to win a prime-time night game at home, but nobody expected the Boilermakers to win by more than four touchdowns.

When the dust settled, Michigan found itself as the last remaining unbeaten team in Big Ten play. The Wolverines are No. 5 in the country and Ohio State fell to No. 11.

So the question has to be asked: Is Michigan the new favorite?

Ohio State's ugly loss

Ohio State has dominated the conference under Urban Meyer, and an embarrassing loss to Iowa last season didn't stop the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten title.

There are a lot of similarities between this year's Ohio State team and the one that went 12-2 last season. The Buckeyes' best win came in comeback fashion -- by one point -- against Penn State both seasons.

J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is sacked in the fourth quarter by linebacker Josey Jewell #43 of the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 04, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Last year, a 31-point loss at Iowa came in the ninth game. This year, a 29-point loss to Purdue came in the eighth game.

There's a chance Ohio State will rebound like it did last season: crushing MSU by 45 to kick off a five-game winning streak. The Buckeyes finished the year as Big Ten and Cotton Bowl champions.

Ohio State gets a bye week to work out its issues this year before a home game against Nebraska, trips to Michigan State and Maryland and the end-of-season matchup with Michigan, which will likely decide the Big Ten East Division title.

Rondale Moore #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers runs the ball and tries to fight off Jahsen Wint #23 of the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ross-Ade Stadium on October 20, 2018 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It's unlikely the Buckeyes would slip up before hosting the Wolverines, but if they do, Michigan could clinch the division before stepping foot in Columbus with wins over Penn State, Rutgers and Indiana.

Comparing Michigan and Ohio State

Offensive edge: Ohio State

Assuming it comes down to Michigan-Ohio State, Jim Harbaugh will need to avoid a repeat of 2016, when the Wolverines outplayed the Buckeyes but couldn't hold on to a 10-point second-half lead.

Ohio State has one of the top offenses in the country, ranking eighth overall in scoring -- 43 points per game -- and second in total offense -- 555.5 yards per game.

Dwayne Haskins is the centerpiece of the team, completing a ridiculous 71.1 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and five interceptions. He doesn't run as often as recent Ohio State quarterbacks, but Haskins is squarely in the Heisman Trophy conversation because of his elite passing ability.

J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber make up a solid running back tandem, but they've struggled to find as much room as in previous years, and Ohio State has more pass attempts than rushes as a result.

Michigan is far less explosive on offense, though style of play is a big reason for the gap. The Wolverines are averaging 420.4 yards and 36 points per game -- solid numbers, but nowhere near OSU's gaudy totals.

Shea Patterson reacts to a teammate's second-quarter touchdown against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

But Michigan has done a better job establishing the running game, rushing for 212.75 yards per game compared to Ohio State's 171.75. The Wolverines are gaining more than 5 yards per carry this season.

Michigan is 94th in the nation with 207.6 passing yards per game while Ohio State is second at 383.8 yards per game. The gap in terms of yards per pass attempt isn't as wide, though, as Ohio State leads just 9-8.3.

Defensive edge: Michigan

For the third straight season, Don Brown has Michigan's defense ranked among the best in the country and this year's unit might be the best of them all.

The Wolverines rank sixth in the country in scoring defense, first in total defense, seventh in rushing defense and first in passing defense.

In other words, Michigan's defense has been just as dominant as Ohio State's offense.

Kwity Paye makes a tackle against Western Michigan on Sept. 8, 2018, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

The Buckeyes have been much less impressive on that side of the ball, allowing nearly 400 yards per game and sitting in the middle of the pack in terms of total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

Purdue exposed Ohio State last weekend, racking up 378 passing yards and 161 rushing yards. But Michigan doesn't have Rondale Moore or D.J. Knox, so the way it attacks the Buckeyes' defense will look much different.

Michigan has to earn it

This season, Michigan looks like the best team in the Big Ten, but it has to earn the right to be called the favorite.

Michigan has lost 13 of its last 14 games against Ohio State and hasn't won in Columbus since 2000. Unless the Buckeyes lost again before the meeting, they will be the favorite when kickoff arrives.

So far, Michigan is undefeated on its "revenge tour," knocking off both Wisconsin and Michigan State. Penn State is up next, and Ohio State is the final hurdle.

Ohio State might still be the favorite, but Michigan has closed the gap.

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