Saturday Afternoon Spotlight – Ohio State vs Michigan

It’s the 114th meeting between the two rivals in a game so big for both teams that they simply call it “The Game.” Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) hosts Michigan (10-1, 8-0) from the Horseshoe in Columbus today.

The winner of today’s iteration earns a berth in the Big 10 Championship game next week. The loser might spend the next 10 days waiting to see if they’ll still make a NY6 bowl game. Both teams have the resume to earn a berth regardless of what happens today. They just want to be able to control their own destiny.

Six Like Opponents

In the fourteen-team Big Ten, each team plays the other six clubs from the division (the East Division in the case of these two teams, and three games against teams in the West Division.

Michigan’s West Division opponents this season were Nebraska, Wisconsin, and West Division champion Northwestern. Ohio State played Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana. So along with the other five East Division teams, the Wolverines and Buckeyes have the Cornhuskers in common.

So let’s take a look at how the teams fared in those six games, by point differential:

OpponentMichiganOhio State
Indiana Hoosiers+11+23
Maryland Terrapins+21+1
Michigan State+14+20
Nebraska Cornhuskers+46+5
Penn State Nittany Lions+35+1
Rutgers Scarlet Knights+35+49

Michigan has definitely done better in these six games.

Beyond Like Opponents

The other two games for both teams also show divergence. Michigan easily beat Wisconsin by 25 and triumphed against Northwestern by 3, for an average differential of +14 in those two games. Ohio State, on the other hand, actually lost one of their games against the West Division, losing to Purdue by 29, and only beating Minnesota by 16. So while Michigan handled business against the other division, defeating the top two teams in the division, while Ohio State struggled to beat two teams that need to win today to qualify for a bowl game

Outside of the Big Ten, Michigan lost the opening game of the season to Notre Dame – who is currently ranked #3 and undefeated – by a touchdown, but handled Western Michigan and SMU by a total of 71 points. On the other hand, Ohio State won all three non-conference games (against Oregon State, TCU, and Tulane, teams that are currently 12-22 combined (Notre Dame alone has 11 wins right now). Michigan gets the edge here too.

Beyond the Results

All that said, Michigan always struggles against Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won six in a row in The Game, and have only lost three times against Michigan since 2000 (15-3, though the 2010 victory was vacated due to NCAA issues). Michigan will need to overcome that history in order to pull this game out, and if the game was at the Big House, I’d like their chances based on their performance this season.

As I write this, Ohio State is leading 24-19 at the half, in a game that hasn’t looked as close as the score indicates – Ohio State fumbled a kickoff, allowing Michigan to score twice in six seconds – but Michigan is close enough to keep it competitive. Michigan is looking to qualify for their first Big Ten Championship game, and this time might be their best opportunity to do so. We’ll watch the rest of the game to see what happens.

Until next time…

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