Location: Ohio Stadium (Columbus, OH) 12pm EST on ABC
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Michigan Players Who Were Recruited By Ohio State: CB Donovan Warren, WR Greg Mathews, WR Junior Hemingway, TE Mike Massey, TE Kevin Koger, and OT Patrick Omameh. RB Sam McGuffie, OL Elliott Mealer, and TE Brandon Moore were on Ohio State's recruiting radar but were not offered scholarships by Ohio State. This is a big point that I will address in the Intangibles section below.
Michigan Rushing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: Rich Rodriguez's teams at West Virginia were always fearsome at running the ball with its spread option attack. Considering how Rodriguez inherited an offensive line that lacks depth, as well as the overall personnel style to run this offense effectively, it should not be a surprise that Michigan ranks 8th in The Big Ten in rushing offense. Throw in relatively immobile quarterbacks (Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan), which are essential for this offense to work, and you'll see why Michigan is struggling offensively. I would not be surprised if Rodriguez inserts true freshman QB Justin Feagin liberally in this game - considering that Feagin is the most mobile of the quarterbacks on the roster, and that Michigan's season ends on Saturday afternoon, what does he have to lose? RBs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown have had their moments this season, and both have battled injuries. Both have been relegated behind true freshmen RBs Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw this season. McGuffie may not play this game, and Shaw has had turnover issues. McGuffie has good speed and is tough, but is also small for an every-down Big Ten back. Both Minor and Brown are more of the traditional Michigan backs Ohio State has faced in this rivalry. Ohio State has struggled with spread option teams in the past, but Michigan's struggling offensive line personnel this season, combined with Ohio State's defensive successes against other spread offenses this year, make this an easy call. Ohio State's run defense ranks 3rd in The Big Ten.
Edge: Ohio State
Michigan Passing Offense vs Ohio State Defense: Michigan's pass offense ranks 10th in The Big Ten, while Ohio State's pass defense ranks 2nd. Michigan's best passer is QB Steven Threet, who probably will not play due to injury. Nick Sheridan will probably get the start against Ohio State, and cannot play much worse than he did last week against Northwestern ~ 8 of 29 for 61 yards. Again, I look for Rodriguez to play Justin Feagin a lot against Ohio State. Feagin is a good running threat, but has not attempted a pass yet - again, what does Rodriguez have to lose by giving him a shot? WRs Martavious Odoms and Greg Mathews and TE Kevin Koger are good weapons, but if the Michigan quarterback cannot get the ball to them downfield, their effect on the game is tremendously minimized.
Big Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Rushing Offense vs Michigan Defense: Ohio State's rushing offense ranks 3rd in The Big Ten, while Michigan's run defense ranks 6th. Just like last year, I look for Coach Tressel to emphasize the run game with RB Chris Wells against the Wolverines. While Michigan's defensive line, especially DE Brandon Graham, has played well this season, I also believe that the defensive line gets worn out from being out on the field so frequently. With QB Terrelle Pryor a threat on option runs, and RB Boom Herron playing well in a backup role to Chris Wells, here is another edge for the Buckeyes.
Slight Edge: Ohio State
Ohio State Passing Offense vs Michigan Defense: Ohio State's passing offense ranks last in The Big Ten, while Michigan's pass defense ranks 10th. As stated above, Michigan's defense plays well, but can only sustain the effort for so long before the defensive front runs out of gas and the secondary is torched. Even with Terrelle Pryor's inexperience, Ohio State should be able to pass on Michigan's defense in this game. Pryor is leading The Big Ten in passing efficiency.
Edge: Ohio State
Special Teams: Ohio State leads The Big Ten in punt returns, while Michigan P Zoltan Mesko is leading The Big Ten in punting. Will Ray Small get an opportunity to play against Michigan, in what is possibly his last appearance in Ohio Stadium as a Buckeye? Ohio State ranks 2nd in field goals; Michigan is 9th. Ohio State ranks 2nd in kickoff coverage; Michigan is ranked 8th. Considering the premium Coach Tressel places on special teams, I will give this edge to Ohio State in this area as well.
Slight Edge: Ohio State
Intangibles: A positive for Michigan ~ the last six coaches have won their first game against Ohio State. A negative for Michigan? No Michigan team with a losing record has defeated Ohio State since 1959.
Most Michigan fans discuss the 1969 epic upset of Ohio State that denied Ohio State another national championship, and hope fervently that this year's team has the heart and desire to inflict another crushing defeat to Ohio State. Two quick points along those lines ~ 1) that Michigan team was 7-2 and playing for The Big Ten championship, and 2) that team had 27 Ohio players recruited by Bo Schembechler.
In my humble estimation, a critical reason why Ohio State has become dominant in this rivalry is because Coach Tressel emphasizes keeping the best in-state talent to play for Ohio State. When is the last time you can remember an Ohio player such as John Kolesar, Ricky Powers, Desmond Howard, or Charles Woodson making a strong contribution for Michigan against Ohio State? Throw in the fact that Rich Rodriguez has even begun losing in-state talent to Michigan State, and you'll see the challenge Rodriguez and his staff have in this rivalry.
Ohio State has a chance to win their fifth straight victory, and earn a share of The Big Ten championship with a victory. Throw in the last game in Ohio Stadium for seniors such as James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, and Alex Boone, and you'll see why the intangibles favor Ohio State.
Big Edge: Ohio State
Prediction: This is the worst Michigan team in history. Never before has Michigan lost eight games in a season. Before some Michigan fan tries to throw it in my face or any other Ohio State fan's face about Ohio State's worst record? The last Ohio State to lose seven games was back in 1897, when a man by the name of William McKinley was living in The White House. Talk about Rich Rodriguez driving the car off the cliff - it's more like he drove the car off the cliff, then set it on fire for good measure.
I believe the hiring of Rich Rodriguez will eventually prove to be a great move by Michigan, but as I predicted back in July, this team's personnel simply is not capable of running the type of offense Rodriguez implemented. Next year, Michigan will be better and in a bowl - but will not be Big Ten championship-caliber.
Given Coach Tressel's style of playing conservative when the weather can become a factor, Ohio State's inconsistent offensive output this season, and Tressel's overall style of not running up the score, I look for this game to be close until the beginning of the 4th quarter. I am going to go with Ohio State 28, Michigan 10.
PS - I am more fearful of the wolverine below than the current squad. Go Bucks!