Michigan Wolverines (10-1 SU, 5-6 ATS) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1 SU, 6-5 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 13
Date/Time: Saturday, November 26 at 12pm ET
Where: Ohio Stadium
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH +6.5/OSU -6.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5
You know a game is a big deal when folks refer to it simply as The Game. Thats right, it is rivalry week in the Big Ten and that means Michigan v. Ohio State. The teams square off in Columbus this weekend for the 113th installment of this storied and epic rivalry and there is perhaps more on the line this time around than ever before. A win for Michigan puts them in the Big Ten Championship game and one step closer to the College Football Playoff. Ohio State will solidify their case for a final four berth with a victory, even if they do not make the trip to Indy. Given that these teams are ranked 3rd and 4th in the CFP projections, the whole nation will be watching this Saturday just to see what might potentially shake out at the end.
Ohio State has won the last four times these teams have taken the field and 13 of the last 16 if you want to include the vacated win from 2010. The online betting sites like the Buckeyes as 6.5 point favorites and are predicting a low scoring affair with a 46.5 point over/under total. Just over 62% of the public money is with Michigan in the early betting despite the Wolverines going just 2-5 against the spread in the last seven games in Columbus and 2-7 ATS in the last nine meetings overall. OSU is 2nd in the Sagarin ratings with Michigan 3rd. The computers give the Buckeyes about a 5.4 point advantage and the offense-defense method is predicting a 23-21 win for Ohio State.
One big note for this weekend is the availability of Michigan QB Wilton Speight. Speight suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and missed the Indiana game. John OKorn was able to lead the Wolverines to a 20-10 win over the Hoosiers but the redshirt freshman managed just 59 yards on 7-for-16 passing. Jim Harbaugh has been non-committal about Speights status but has not ruled him out. That could certainly be some gamesmanship but getting any playing time out of Speight would be a big emotional boost for Michigan.
To make this matchup all the more intriguing, these teams are ridiculously close in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Both run the ball tremendously well and play a dominant brand of defense. Michigan owns a slight advantage with a pass rush that has accounted for 11 more sacks but Ohio State converts over half of its 3rd down opportunities to give them a nice offensive edge. This one could certainly come down to quarterback play and OSU has the definitive advantage there with J.T. Barrett. Michigan is a stellar defense overall but Barrett has accounted for over 3,000 combined passing and rushing yards with 32 total touchdowns. He knows how to use his best weapons and gets the support of the crowd this weekend. In a nip-and-tuck battle, the QB play often tips the scales.
Ive been staring at the stat sheet for two days now and it is remarkable how close these teams are. There really isnt a weakness that either team could plan to exploit so this one will really be about on-field execution, turnovers and maybe that one call from the sideline at the right time. The team that winds up running the ball more effectively is going to have a good chance to win. Both teams rely on winning the time of possession battle and pressing those defenses upon trailing opponents so the team playing from behind will be in an uncomfortable and mostly unfamiliar spot. Michigan has a more NFL style run game with DeVeon Smith and Chris Evans running out of the I and fullback Khalid Hill leads the team with 10 total touchdowns. A productive run game will help OKorn operate ahead of the sticks and use guys like Amara Darboh and Jake Butt in play-action rather than relying on the pass to move that ball exclusively. Ohio State employs Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel out of the backfield to go along with the Barrett X-factor runs. Weber and Samuel are the key playmakers and are probably a half step ahead of Michigans Smith and Evans in terms of homerun ability. Samuel also leads the Buckeyes in receptions, yards and receiving TDs so Harbaugh needs to craft a plan to limit him or it could be the difference.
The odd part is both teams have struggled against the same team or kind of teams. Both got seven point wins against Wisconsin but didnt look particularly good against the Badgers. Both also struggled with a relatively weak Michigan State team. OSU escaped with a 17-16 win against Sparty in part because MSU decided to go for two instead of tying the game at 17 late. Michigan fell at Iowa and OSU dropped one at Penn State. The Hawkeyes and Lions are good but not great Big Ten teams so I think it shows that the Wolverines and Buckeyes are not above getting caught in the proverbial trap game. Each fell behind and almost seemed surprised to be in that trailing situation. This isnt a trap game situation but someone is going to be forced to make plays when it counts and that hasnt been especially easy for either team on those limited occasions this season.
So, what happens this Saturday. I think the home field is the big trump card for Ohio State and they get the win. The Buckeyes have a small edge in playmaking ability, enough to overcome the slight defensive edge owned by the Wolverines. Jabrill Peppers is a special athlete but he isnt having the Heisman-type impact that may predicted he might. Michigan is just a quarter-step behind Ohio State right now and that gap would still exist with a healthy Speight. Barrett has done pretty well in protecting the ball this season and he should make enough plays to get the Buckeyes in the barn at 11-1. I am taking the Wolverines and the points however because Michigan has the talent in the run game to gain ground and stay close. With everything that is riding on this one, it just feels like this one is going to be a one-score game come the final quarter. It might be a nail-biter for all the fans at The Shoe but Ohio State escapes with a 24-20 win.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan
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