The rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan is one of the best in college football, but that fact might not be reflected in this year’s game. The two teams are set to meet in what could turn out to be one of the biggest blowouts, between the Big Ten schools in recent memory.
When the two teams take the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, they’ll be playing for very different stakes. With a 10-1 record and the No.6 ranking in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Buckeyes are looking for an impressive showing, in hopes that they might find their way into the four-team postseason. As 21-point road underdogs at Las Vegas casinos, Michigan is hoping to pull off one of the biggest upsets this year, which would even their record at 6-6 and make them eligible for a bowl game.
The 2013 contest between Ohio State and Michigan should give the Wolverines some hope. Michigan was a heavy underdog in Ann Arbor against an undefeated Ohio State squad, yet nearly pulled off a shocking upset when a late two-point conversion failed in a 42-41 loss.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer hopes things go differently in 2014, even though the Buckeyes got the better of their rivals. The victory came at a price, as an in-game fight got running back Dontre Wilson and offensive guard Marcus Hall ejected from the contest, forcing Ohio State to bench Hall in the Big Ten Championship Game.
"I had a talk with our team about that, and absolutely no case for that," Meyer said, via ESPN. "Intensity? Absolutely. There's a certain mentality we need to take to this field, but that's not acceptable.
"That's not the way we play the game, and I think a lot of lessons were learned. We went without one of our key linemen in the [conference] championship game the following week, and we played a game without two or three good players. That was a very strong conversation in the team meeting."
If the Buckeyes can control their intensity, Saturday’s game shouldn’t be nearly as close as it was a year ago. Ohio State has been dominant against unranked Big Ten opponents, going 5-0 and winning by an average of 25.6 points per game. In six home games, the Buckeyes are averaging 48.3 points per game.
Michigan’s nightmarish season has been highlighted by their ineptitude against top teams. They’ve lost both of their games against Top 25 opponents, being outscored 66-11.
The two teams combined to score 83 points last season, but Michigan might have to keep the total below the over/under of 41.5, in order to keep it close. In conference play, the Wolverines have scored more than 24 points just once, and they rank 21st in the nation by allowing 20.6 points per contest.
Slowing down the Ohio State offensive attack is much easier said than done. Other than their Week 2 loss, the Buckeyes haven’t failed to score more than 31 points in a game. Even with Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller going down before the start of the season, Ohio State hasn't missed a beat with J.T. Barrett at quarterback.
The freshman continues to get better each week, totaling 13 scores and three interceptions in his last three games. Barrett had 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in his first three games of 2014.
"You look at the progression from the first start to going through the season, and I think he (Barrett) has done a great job in how they manage and what he wants and has to do offensively," Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said at a press conference. “He is athletic, obviously, and I think the way he has thrown the ball, the precision on that. I know last week was one of those games, the way it started, that was not as good. I think he has overcome a lot when those things have happened, and I think he has been a guy that has done a great job for them."
Ohio State has won nine of the last 10 games in the rivalry. Five of those wins were decided by more than 10 points.
PREDICTION: Ohio State over Michigan, 42-20