Ohio State Buckeyes (6-5 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Michigan Wolverines (9-2 SU, 8-3 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Week 13 NCAA Football, Saturday, November 26, 2011, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich., TV: ABC
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: OSU +7.5/Mich. -7.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
Itís rivalry week in college football, and there arenít too many in the game that can match the intensity and passion of the rivalry when Ohio State and Michigan strap it up. This year the Buckeyes will travel to the Big House of Michigan Stadium to take on the Wolverines Saturday afternoon on ABC.
The fact that the Buckeyes are having one of the most troublesome seasons in recent memory shouldnít detract from the game too much on Saturday. Ohio State comes into the game unranked and fresh off a two-game losing streak, including a 20-14 defeat at home last weekend to Penn State.
What might distract the Buckeyes players and fans from their hatred of everything Maize-and-Gold is the rumor mill off the field that is linking former Florida coach and Ohio native Urban Meyer to the Ohio State job. ESPN reported last Saturday that itís all but a done deal, which prompted immediate denials from both Meyer and Ohio State AD Gene Smith that no deal has been discussed or accepted.
Either way, it wonít help keep the Buckeyes focus on the field, which is where it needs to be if they want to try and keep their current seven-game winning streak against the hated rivals to the North alive for another season.
Michigan has turned things around in a hurry under first-year coach Brady Hoke, with a 10-win season and a New Yearís Day bowl bid all but a lock if they can just beat the reeling Buckeyes at home this week. If you would have said that the Wolverines would be ranked 15th in the BCS standings and a win away from a 10-win campaign back in February, you might have been asked to go pee in a cup.
But thatís exactly where the Wolverines are these days, and theyíve got all sorts of momentum in their favor after literally destroying the Nebraska Cornhuskers last weekend, 45-17. Quarterback Denard Robinson ran for two scores and added two throwing, and the once maligned Wolverine defense forced three turnovers and held a potent Nebraska attack to just 260 total yards in the big win last weekend.
With everything pointing in Michiganís favor leading up to the Big Ten Conference showdown this week, itís no surprise that oddsmakers opened the game with the Wolverines as 7.5-point favorites in the Big House. The betting public with their short memories seem to be drinking the Wolverine kool aide too, since most of the early money is pouring in on Michigan in order to cause the number to go up to minus -8 or minus -8.5 at a bunch of sportsbooks in Las Vegas and on the Web.
As of press time an over/under total has yet to be released.
The Ohio State-Michigan game will feature two of the most exciting duel-threat quarterbacks in the college game these days leading their respective offenses.
Robinson is the main reason why the Wolverines have been so successful this year, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards (1,889) and running for nearly a 1,00 as well (993). With 15 touchdown passes and 14 rushing, the junior is the engine that makes the Michigan offense move the ball and is the key to limiting their success too.
Robinson has a solid batch of receivers led by Junior Hemmingway and Jeremy Gallon, and he also has a trio of good running backs to hand it off to (Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw) is order to keep the Wolverines potent run game clicking on all cylinders (231 ypg Ė 12th in NCAA).
The key to stopping the Wolverines is forcing Robinson to have to throw it to win, because even though he has a strong arm his accuracy (only 54 %) and his decision making (14 INT) can be lacking at times and under pressure.
On the other sideline, Ohio State true freshman QB Braxton Miller is the future of the Buckeyes program. After taking over as the starter at the start of the Big Ten season, Miller has shown a natural ability to make big plays in the read-option with his feet. Itís the passing game where the freshman still plays like a freshman, throwing at just a 48 percent clip and for a meager 114 yards a game (118th in NCAA).
Itís because of Millerís inability to make defenses honor his throwing ability that has hurt the Buckeyes in recent weeks. Penn State stacked the box last week to make him throw it, and his 7-for-17 performance for 83 yards just wasnít enough to get the Buckeyes back in the game. Ohio State ran it for 206 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average, but until Miller gets better at throwing the ball itís going to make for long days for the Buckeyes defense.
Likewise, that same Buckeyes defense was gouged last week by the Nittany Lions for 239 yards rushing and a 6.1 yards per carry average, something Robinson and the Wolverine offense will likely try and attack this week. If Ohio State can rally the troops and force Robinson to throw the ball on third-and-long situations, they could have enough to keep the score close late in the fourth quarter.
Michigan hasnít beaten the Buckeyes since the 2003 season, a 35-21 victory in Michigan Stadium back when guys like Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Steve Breaston and Chris Perry were roaming the sidelines for these two storied programs.
Not only has Ohio State dominated the series on the scoreboard, but they are 8-2 ATS including four straight covers in a row, so theyíve cashed a lot of betting tickets for happy Buckeyes fans over the years as well.
But looking at the betting trends of this series is dangerous, because with the Buckeyes dominance over the years itís hard to find a single trend that points in Michiganís direction. Ohio State is 5-1 ATS as a road underdog, 41-18-1 ATS in their last 60 Big Ten games and 24-9-1 ATS on the road overall. Compared to Michiganís 7-23 ATS mark in the Big Ten, and 1-5 ATS mark against the Buckeyes head-to-head at home.
But these are different days, where Michigan is the stable program and the Buckeyes are the program in flux with scandal and controversy around every corner, so take all of those trends with a grain of salt.
Once the total is released, a play on the under could be a good trend play. The under is 8-2 in the last 10 game that Ohio State was the underdog, and itís also 6-1 in the Wolverines last seven game versus a team with a winning record and 4-1 in their last five Big Ten games overall.
Badgerís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I really have a hard time believing that Ohio State can keep their heads straight with the season theyíve had, and now the rumors of a new coach, all swirling around every day. But rivalry games are a different beast, and I wouldnít be surprised in the least to see them keep this one close. Eight points is too many in my opinion. Ohio State will keep it close because they still have all kinds of talent at their disposal. Iím betting Ohio State plus the points.
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