ANN ARBOR, Mich. – This Big Ten football season, like so many others, is largely expected to come down to a Michigan-Ohio State battle once again.
Each of the past two years, The Game has directly determined who represents the East Division in the Big Ten Championship Game and ends up in the College Football Playoff.
Penn State looks like a force to be reckoned with this season, but still, Michigan and Ohio State are the two biggest bullies at the top of the league.
Nine years ago, I knew this day would eventually come, so I befriended an Ohio State fan and started to gain his trust. Against my better judgment, he’s earned the same in return.
So now I’m bringing Connor in to talk about our first impressions of Michigan and Ohio State, and what our expectations are for the 2023 season.
Connor is a basketball-first guy, but he’s got his finger on the pulse of the Ohio State fan base as a whole, and his opinion is more well-reasoned than most on both sides of the rivalry.
I’m going to talk a bit more casually about Michigan-Ohio State and make fun of Connor way more in the Hail newsletter tomorrow morning. If you want to join that community, sign up right here (it’s fun and informal, I promise):
Now let’s get to the questions!
What were your first impressions of Michigan and Ohio State this weekend?
After watching this team for 60 minutes, Ohio State looks like a team loaded with weapons. The big question will be whether quarterback play prevents them from fully utilizing that talent, especially at wide receiver. Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming are an elite top three, and then to have Xavier Johnson, Carnell Tate, and Cade Stover around as well just gives Kyle McCord even more options. But McCord didn’t look great in his first start (he also started one game two seasons ago, but does Akron really count?). He struggled to put the ball in spots where only his guys could get it, and Indiana got their hands on several passes that needed to be thrown up and out a bit more, where only his receivers could make a play. I was pleasantly surprised with Ohio State’s defensive performance. Holding any Big Ten team under 200 total yards -- even the worst ones -- is impressive.
Michigan was a bit boring, but effective. East Carolina came to Ann Arbor and said, “You will not run the ball down our throats.” So J.J. McCarthy threw for 280 and Michigan still won the game easily. I wanted to see a little more defensive pressure, but tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant look like game wreckers. Overall, it was a positive, and hey, at least they aren’t Clemson!
What grade would you give your starting quarterback in the first game?
J.J. McCarthy gets a solid A for the East Carolina game. I mean, what more could Michigan really ask for? He set a record for single-game completion percentage by a Michigan quarterback and connected with Roman Wilson for three touchdowns. What stood out the most: His pinpoint accuracy on the run.
Kyle McCord gets a C+. He wasn’t horrendous, and he definitely made a few big throws in the second half, especially to tight end Cade Stover. But there were also more than a couple throws where his man had a defensive back beat and he was unable to put the ball in a spot where only his man could make the catch. Against Indiana, those are incomplete passes, but against Notre Dame, Penn State, or Michigan, they’re interceptions.
What’s the early mindset looking ahead to the Michigan-Ohio State game?
The temperature of the Ohio State fan base feels lukewarm at best when it comes to the Michigan game. Even after getting clobbered in 2021, Buckeye fans felt pretty confident that the team would bounce back at home last season. Clearly, that didn’t happen. For the first time in over a decade, it feels like at least a chunk of the fanbase understands the challenge it’ll be for the Buckeyes to march up to Ann Arbor and knock off Michigan with a first-year starting QB. Fans aren’t exuding the confidence they have had for most of the last decade. It doesn’t seem like too many folks are making reservations for Indianapolis in advance this year, as most of us expect the East to be decided on Nov. 25. I personally do not think Ohio State will beat Michigan this season, but counting out a team with the amount of talent Ohio State does would also be silly. There’s still a ways to go.
Two things you said: “talent” and “first time in over a decade.” No matter how dominant Michigan has looked the last two seasons, it’s impossible to ignore the talent advantage Ohio State will have on Nov. 25. Michigan fans are confident, especially since the game is at home, but like you said, the decade before 2021 was brutal, and those scars don’t heal as fast for some as they have for others. I think the fan base is very confident in the team they have, but there’s always an expectation that Ohio State will be the toughest game of the season.
Do fans expect a return to the playoff this season?
Absolutely. In fact, for some, that wouldn’t even be good enough. Now that Michigan has been to the playoff a couple of times, the expectation this season is to get there and win. This team is better on paper than the last two, but anything can happen in college football. I’m of the mindset that getting back to the playoff alone would make this season a success, but the fan base as a whole wants (and expects) even more.
After seeing Ohio State and Michigan both make the playoff last year, I think most Buckeye fans are still expecting them to make it again, even if they lose to Michigan. They’ll need to beat Penn State and Notre Dame to make that happen, and not slip up anywhere else. Despite Ohio State looking like they’ll be the clear underdogs against Michigan, most people still expect Ohio State to be right there in the playoff mix at the end of the season.
Why does it seem like the vibes are down for Ohio State fans?
Ohio State came within a field goal of going to (and probably winning) the national championship last season. But it seems like the excitement compared to past years is a bit muted. What’s the deal?
I think that just goes to show how obsessed this team is with beating Michigan, and how important it is to the fans that you beat Michigan every single season. The fact that Ohio State didn’t just lose to the Wolverines the last two years -- but were thoroughly embarrassed both times -- does not sit well with anyone. To a lot of people, myself included, beating Michigan is just as important as winning national championships. The first 11 games are simply preparing for Michigan, and The Game itself is what fans wait for all year long. Even if Ohio State had beaten Georgia last season and then won the national championship, knowing that Michigan fans could still hold that blowout win over their heads would eat at Buckeye fans as they cheered at the (hypothetical) championship parade. That game means everything.
Is Ryan Day actually in danger of losing his job?
I know people say Ryan Day is in danger of being fired if he loses to Michigan again this season, but c’mon, is that really true? Let’s say he goes 11-1 with a loss to Michigan -- is Ohio State really going to pull the trigger?
Yes, I think there’s a legitimate possibility Ryan Day would lose his job if Ohio State lost to Michigan this season. I would put it somewhere around 50% -- by no means a guarantee, especially if they win 11 games. But consistently losing to your biggest rival just isn’t something that can happen at Ohio State if you want to hold that job for very long, regardless of how well you fare against everyone else on the schedule.
Now to the real questions
So I know you’re a basketball writer, and Chris Holtmann is your guy. Let’s say he calls you up, “Hey Connor, you wanna play some Mario Kart tonight?” It’s your dream scenario, I know. But he wants to play during the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game. What are you choosing?
I’m willing to bet Chris Holtmann owns multiple TVs. There’s no reason we can’t multitask.
That’s cheating, but OK. Let’s say you can add one of these three to the current Ohio State roster: Yoshi, Bulbasaur, or Sandy from SpongeBob. You have to pick one. Who is it?
Bulbasaur. Throw him on the offensive line and let him use Vine Whip to neutralize the blitz. I’d like to see anyone try to bull rush their way through those vines.