ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football has had another excellent season, winning each of its first 11 games for the first time in 16 years. But can it take down the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes for the second year in a row?
Oddsmakers certainly aren’t expecting it, as the Wolverines head into The Game as underdogs by more than a touchdown. But that was also the case last year, when Michigan snapped its losing streak in the rivalry and beat down the Buckeyes by 15 points.
Many of the key players will be the same Saturday, but doing what Michigan did to Ohio State will be much more difficult down in Columbus.
Even though both teams are 11-0 and ranked in the top three of the College Football Playoff rankings, the metrics believe Ohio State is a significantly better team. The Buckeyes are just barely behind Georgia in both FPI and SP+, two of the most effective predictive ratings in the sport. Michigan is also top four in both, but after a bit of a gap.
This game won’t be played on paper, though, and it’s critical that Michigan overcame the mental hurdle of beating Ohio State a year ago. The Wolverines won’t be marching into the Horseshoe with any fear.
Jim Harbaugh knows his team’s path to victory is controlling the clock and making a couple of big plays on defense. Ohio State will score points -- that’s a guarantee. The Buckeyes have only been held below 40 once since the opening weekend, and that was during a weather anomaly at Northwestern.
The challenge for Michigan will be sustaining drives without a proven passing attack. Ohio State remembers all-too-well how the Wolverines dominated the trenches a year ago, and new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was hired to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy has struggled with accuracy in recent weeks, and even when he is on target, his receivers haven’t been able to make plays. His three most reliable targets are running back Donovan Edwards and tight ends Luke Schoonmaker and Colston Loveland -- and two of the three have been out with injuries.
Speaking of injuries, star running back Blake Corum -- a Heisman candidate and the heart and soul of Michigan’s team -- suffered a knee injury against Illinois and almost surely won’t be at 100% if he plays. Ohio State’s offense has been able to overcome the loss of their best playmaker, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, this season, but will the Wolverines be able to do the same if Corum can’t go?
Corum isn’t just valuable for the Michigan offense. He’s the best weapon to keep C.J. Stroud and Marvin Harrison Jr. off the field. The more time Ohio State’s offense spends on the sideline, the better Michigan’s chances.
In the past, Michigan has gone into Columbus and played well as a significant underdog -- just look at the last time both teams were ranked in the top three. The Wolverines led that 2016 matchup for most of regulation before coming up an inch short of a game-winning stop in double overtime.
As close as Michigan has come, it hasn’t won in the Horseshoe in 22 years, losing each of the last nine meetings. Harbaugh’s team broke one rivalry losing streak last year -- can they erase another this weekend?
As is often the case, the stakes for this Michigan-Ohio State battle go well beyond bragging rights. The Big Ten and College Football Playoff implications are massive, with the winner heading to Indianapolis and likely landing in the top two of the final CFP poll.
Harbaugh has Michigan back where it wants to be: competing for conference and national championships. But just like in 2021, this year’s team will be remembered for what happens against Ohio State.
Can Michigan shock the country twice in a row? We’re about to find out.