Here's why I just can't pick Michigan football to win the Big Ten over Ohio State this year

Wolverines becoming trendy off-season favorite to win conference title

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on against the Florida Gators in the first quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - College football doesn't kick off for more than a month, but talk about the upcoming season is starting to ramp up as the major conferences hold media days around the country.

For the Big Ten, talking season begins Thursday in Chicago, where coaches and players will answer questions about the last seven months and, more importantly, the months to come.

One of the top storylines going into media days: Everyone seems to be picking Michigan to win the Big Ten.

Cleveland.com polled 34 writers who cover specific Big Ten teams or the conference as a whole, and Michigan received 20 first-place votes in the East Division. Seventeen of those 20 writers picked Michigan to win the conference title.

It's the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era that Michigan is picked to win the Big Ten.

I understand why so many people are picking Michigan, but I just can't bring myself to do the same.

Why Michigan is a popular pick

Writers who think Michigan will win the Big Ten this season have plenty of justification for doing so. Michigan has made massive improvements under Jim Harbaugh and has twice gone into the Ohio State game with a chance to win the East Division.

He took over a program that finished with a losing record three times in seven years and had it on the brink of the College Football Playoff twice in his first four seasons. Yeah, Harbaugh is an excellent coach.

Donovan Peoples-Jones celebrates a touchdown with head coach Jim Harbaugh while playing Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Ohio State, meanwhile, will break in a brand new head coach this season. No matter how good Ryan Day is, it's unlikely he'll be able to match the dominance of Urban Meyer, who is probably one of the five best college football coaches of all time.

The fact that Day is a first-time head coach replacing perhaps the best coach in OSU history is one of the top reasons people are picking Michigan as a favorite.

The Wolverines also have Shea Patterson returning at quarterback after a very strong first season in Ann Arbor. Perhaps more importantly, Harbaugh hired an offensive coordinator who better fits Patterson's skillset and will utilize the team's best weapons: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black.

Shea Patterson calls out to his teammates while playing Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan also returns four starting offensive linemen who earned some type of Big Ten honors. Oh yeah, and Don Brown has had the Wolverines ranked in the top three in total defense every season since he arrived.

Proven coaching staff? Check. Returning starter at quarterback? Check. Off-season moves to address last season's shortcomings? Check.

Heck, Michigan even finished ahead of Ohio State in recruiting rankings for the first time since 2010.

The off-season momentum heavily favors the Wolverines, which is why so many people are jumping on board.

Not everything favors Michigan, though.

Factors favoring Ohio State

Results from previous years don't matter when a new season starts in college football, but on the surface, it seems a little strange to pick Michigan to win the conference when it has lost to Ohio State seven times in a row and 14 of the last 15 years.

It would be naive to deny that Ohio State's recent dominance in the rivalry doesn't have an effect on the game. Most of Michigan's players weren't alive the last time the Wolverines were competitive in the rivalry, and none of them have experienced a win over the Buckeyes.

Chris Olave of Ohio State outruns Brandon Watson of Michigan for a 24-yard touchdown catch at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 24, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Ohio State's players go into the matchup expecting to win because all they've done is win. There's absolutely no doubt that Ohio State goes into The Game with a mental edge every season, and it often shows in how the two teams handle adversity.

More importantly, Ohio State simply has a more talented roster.

Up until 2019, Ohio State had out-recruited Michigan every season since 2015, which is the last possible class from which current players could have been members.

Here's a look at how the two teams have fared in recruiting since then:

2015

  • Ohio State: No. 7 class, 90.31 average recruit rank
  • Michigan: No. 37 class, 87.81 average

2016

  • Ohio State: No. 4 class, 91.56 average
  • Michigan: No. 8 class, 89.86 average

2017

  • Ohio State: No. 2 class, 94.59 average
  • Michigan: No. 5 class, 91.20 average

2018

  • Ohio State: No. 2 class, 94.29 average
  • Michigan: No. 22 class, 88.75 average

2019

  • Ohio State: No. 14 class, 91.87 average
  • Michigan: No. 8 class, 90.78 average

Even when Michigan finished with a better class ranking in 2019, it was more about quantity than quality, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings.

Recruiting isn't everything, but it's undeniable that Ohio State has consistently landed more high-level talent than Michigan in recent years. Harbaugh is starting to make up ground, but that isn't yet reflected in the current rosters.

Both teams lost plenty of talent to the NFL draft, so that roster depth will certainly come into play.

Also, Michigan might not even have an advantage at the quarterback position this year, as Ohio State brought in one of the most highly ranked high school players ever: Georgia transfer Justin Fields.

Justin Fields #1 of the Georgia Bulldogs passes against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on September 15, 2018 at Sanford Stadiuym in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Fields is the eighth-highest ranked player in the history of recruiting rankings and the No. 3 quarterback behind Texas legend Vince Young and defending national champion Trevor Lawrence.

Will he end up being as good as his ranking? That remains to be seen. But given Ohio State's history with quarterbacks, it's a safe bet that Fields will become a star.

Final thoughts

Michigan certainly has the advantage of playing Ohio State at home, but that hasn't been a guarantee in rivalry games under Harbaugh.

There are more factors working in Michigan's favor than ever, but that also appeared to be the case last season leading up to the game in Columbus. Everyone remembers what happened there.

If Ohio State hadn't landed Fields it might be a different story, but he just seems like the perfect fit to become OSU's next star dual-threat quarterback. That's been bad news for Michigan over the years, even for Brown's defenses.

The Wolverines have won so many off-season titles without translating that into championship seasons. This is Harbaugh's best chance to win the Big Ten, but in terms of making a preseason prediction, I need to see Michigan finally prove it on the field.

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