While there are a lot of big games with a lot of major playoff implications over the next few days, there is no game that will be played anywhere, with higher stakes this weekend, than Ohio State-Michigan.
Just how big is this game? The two teams enter ranked No.’s 2 and 3 in the country respectively, with major Big Ten title and playoff implications for each club. Add long-term recruiting ramifications and regional pride, and this one is huge. One of the biggest games of the season is bigger than usual.
Only one team can win the game, so who will it be?
Here are five reasons the Wolverines will knock off the Buckeyes this weekend.
(To read the counter, why Ohio State will beat Michigan, click here)
Getty ImagesGregory Shamus
The Wolverines have the single most dangerous weapon in this game
Peppers is the most versatile defender in college football – he plays every position from linebacker to corner – but where he could hurt the Buckeyes is everywhere else. He averages over seven yards per carry on offense and a staggering 15.25 yards per punt return. That number is fourth in the country overall.
Keep in mind too that his presence on the field makes the defense account for everyone else on the offense.
Michigan’s power-run game takes away Ohio State’s greatest strength
For anyone who has even paid a tiny bit of attention to Michigan this season, it’s no secret that the Wolverines' strength on offense is in their run game. Michigan is averaging 5.3 yards per carry (which is second-best in the Big Ten) and their 39 total rushing touchdowns is tied for second in the country.
Not bad, and it could be especially effective against Ohio State this weekend. If the Buckeyes have a weakness on defense, it’s stopping the run. They rank 18th nationally. Michigan’s ability to run the ball takes away the greatest strength of Ohio State’s defense: Their opportunistic secondary. That group has a staggering 17 interceptions, including six returned for touchdowns.
So, what’s the best way to limit the nation’s most dangerous secondary? Avoid throwing at them. Which is exactly what the Wolverines will do this weekend.
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Are we sure John O’Korn is significantly worse than Wilton Speight?
Maybe the single-most surprising aspect of this game is how many people are picking against the Wolverines because they're starting their backup QB. Ahh, excuse me. When did Wilton Speight become Tom Brady, Cam Newton and the Dalai Lama rolled into one?
Speight was a serviceable quarterback who was reliable, never overextended himself and let his play-makers do the work for him. He had a respectable 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions, while completing 62 percent of his passes. Not awful numbers. But not “Cam Newton winning the Heisman in 2010 numbers” either.
O’Korn should be able to duplicate 95 percent of what Speight was already doing, considering he completed 20 of 34 passes last weekend, and did so in the middle of a blizzard. Let’s also never forget that O’Korn nearly beat Speight out for the starting job to begin with. Michigan will be fine.
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Michigan has the best defense Ohio State will face all season
With all due respect to what Ohio State has done offensively this season – and considering they’re tied for fifth nationally in scoring, what they’ve done is incredible – they haven’t faced a defense anywhere close to as talented as the Wolverines. The closest version was Wisconsin (the only Top 20 defense they’ve seen all year), and the Badgers held them to 411 total yards for the game. That’s more than 80 yards below their season average.
Jim Harbaugh’s club ranks No. 1 in the country in both fewest points allowed (10.9) and yards per game (giving up just 245). The Wolverines haven’t done it against shabby offenses either; three of their wins are over current Top 10 teams (Colorado, Wisconsin and Penn State).
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At this point, it’s about pride
I know, I know. There is pride on both sides in this game. At the same time, for Michigan this game isn’t just about a victory, or even a playoff berth. It’s about restoring a rivalry.
Looking at just how much Ohio State has dominated this game through the years is simply staggering. The Buckeyes have won 13 of 15 and 11 of 12 overall. They haven’t lost in Columbus since 2000… when current freshmen in this game were two-years-old. And sadly, Michigan’s one victory in the last decade only came when the Buckeyes were playing for interim coach Luke Fickell.
There isn’t a single player on this Michigan roster who has beaten Ohio State and it's the last shot for the seniors.
Saturday is finally the day Michigan fans can say: Hail to the Victors. The Wolverines will finally beat the Buckeyes.