“The Game” is finally here. The one for all the marbles. An undefeated season on the line. No, we’re not talking about No. 1 Notre Dame’s trip to the Coliseum. The Game, undefeated Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) hosting No. 19 Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten), is upon us. While this game will not directly impact the Big Ten Championship for only the second time in the past decade, expect all the intensity of a title fight in arguably college football’s greatest rivalry.
Kickoff: Noon, EST
Series: Michigan leads 58-44-6
Series this Century: Ohio State leads 8-3-0 (2011 game vacated by OSU)
Series in Columbus: Michigan leads 27-23-2
Last Meeting: November 26, 2011: Michigan 40, Ohio State 34
Line, Purely For Entertainment and “Make Your Buddy Do Stupid Stuff” bets: Ohio State -3.5 as of Wednesday.
With a postseason ban in place, The Game takes on additional significance for Ohio State. Lacking a conference championship or BCS appearance to play for, the Buckeyes will be defending an undefeated season at home against their greatest rival. Head Coach Urban Meyer has an opportunity to finish undefeated for only the second time in his career. Oddly enough, that first undefeated season (2004 with Utah) also ended without a chance at the BCS National Championship Game due to Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma all being undefeated as well.
For Michigan, the extra carrot in this game is bowl positioning. A loss to Nebraska has the Wolverines out of the Rose Bowl picture (barring a Cornhusker loss at Iowa Saturday), but they could find themselves sneaking into the BCS picture as an at-large, especially if Nebraska falls to Wisconsin in Indianapolis. While a lot of dominoes need to fall for Big Blue, they need to start the chain reaction by winning on Saturday.
Quarterback play will be a key for both teams. On paper, that favors the Buckeyes as QB Braxton Miller is quietly having a Heisman-caliber season. Miller has thrown for 1,850 yards, but has also ran for 1,214. His rushing stats alone put him in the top 20 in the nation, second among quarterbacks (behind Michigan’s Denard Robinson). Miller has a golden opportunity to pad his Heisman resume with a memorable performance on national television.
The Wolverines will enter The Horseshoe with questions about Shoelace, as the status of Robinson is still uncertain. Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein that Robinson is “close to 100 percent” on Monday, but he had not yet decided on who would take Michigan’s first snap. Robinson did play in the Wolverines’ 42-17 win over Iowa last week, but did not attempt a pass, finishing with 98 yards on 13 carries. After racking up 337 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns last year against Ohio State, expect him to play a significant role in Michigan’s offense on Saturday.
Stat that makes it sound like Ohio State should win: 11-0. The Buckeyes are one of two undefeated teams remaining in the FBS. They have yet to lose a game under Meyer, much less a home game. Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000.
Stat that makes it sound like Michigan should win: 83.3 % field goal percentage. This game is likely to be close, and could be decided by a late field goal. The Wolverines hold a clear advantage over their opponents, who have made just four of six field goals this year.
The Road To Orlando*: BCS appearances are a long shot for the Wolverines, requiring a loss by Nebraska either on Saturday (the Huskers are 15-point favorites in Iowa City) or next weekend in Indianapolis. Right now UM holds pole position on being the “best available” team for the Capital One Bowl by virtue of their 6-1 conference record and head-to-head win over Northwestern two weeks ago. The Wildcats have a chance to finish 9-3 when they play 2-9 Illinois on Saturday. Michigan can stay ahead of NU with a win over their hated rival. A Michigan loss would leave them at 8-4 and could open the door for the Wildcats to get back in the conversation.
* – Not a guarantee.