Like Pos said in the De La Soul classic Stakes is High, this weekend’s game between No. 3 Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) and No. 2 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) will be “Migrating to a higher form of consequence.”
Both of these squads could come into this game with records worse than Wyclef’s The Ecleftic, and it still wouldn’t diminish the intensity of this annual rivalry. But this year, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes are playing for a share of the Big Ten East Division title and a birth in the conference championship game. And then, there’s also that whole invitation to the College Football Playoff thing.
In terms of importance on the NCAA gridiron landscape and helping to determine who has a shot at the national championship, it just doesn’t get any bigger than what’s going down on Saturday in the Horseshoe at noon in Columbus, Ohio.
If Michigan wins, they’re headed to Lucas Oil Stadium for the conference championship game in search of their first Big Ten title since Baxter got punted and Ron Burgundy was wearing suits that made Frank Sinatra look like a hobo 12 years ago.
Ohio State’s path isn’t as direct, but it’s pretty much assumed that if they beat Michigan, they’ll be in the playoffs, even if Penn State defeats Michigan State, which would mean that the Nittany Lions head to the conference championship. But either way you slice it, a Buckeyes victory has them sitting pretty.
Over the last 12 years, Ohio State has treated Michigan like they treat the likes of Indiana and Northwestern, winning 11 times. Last year in Jim Harbaugh’s first year back in Ann Arbor coaching his alma mater, Doughboy, Trey, Ricky and Chris found the Wolverines in a sad state after the 42-13 loss they took.
But in less than two years, Harbaugh has returned Michigan to its status as an elite program that they haven’t enjoyed since Bo Schembechler was roaming the sidelines, and most recently in 1997 when Charles Woodson became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.
This weekend’s matchup is about as big as it gets during the regular season, equaling the 2006 game where they walked in as the top two teams in the country featuring the skills of eventual Heisman winner Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, Jr., Malcolm Jenkins, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston, among many others.
And if we’re lucky enough to have a similar battle this weekend to that “Game of the Century”, we’ll be in for a certified treat.
The rivalry was inaugurated back when George W. Johnson was laughing at his haters and dropping the first known mixtapes, and when Spain granted Puerto Rico autonomy around 1897. So to say that the game has some history behind it is an understatement.
Both teams have dominant defenses that excel in the red-zone, along with Heisman-worthy individual studs in Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett and Michigan’s multi-dimensional threat Jabrill Peppers. No one knows who Michigan will start the game with under center, as Wilton Speight, who directed the offense all season until a shoulder injury sidelined him last week, is listed as day-to-day.
Michigan leads the conference in sacks, and both squads rarely give up big plays. So points and game-breaking moments of large-yardage gains will be harder to come by than Donald Trump, Paper Boi and Stephon Marbury singing the New Jack version of We Are The World.
One area where they are not similar is at the most important position on the field, Quarterback.
Speight is decent, having thrown for 2,156 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions before getting hurt. John O’Korn, the Wolverines backup who played against Indiana last week, struggled like a Trump supporter trying to sing along with Aretha Franklin’s rendition of the National Anthem at the Lions Thanksgiving Day game, completing only seven of his 16 pass attempts for 59 yards.
Buckeye senior QB J.T. Barrett, whose magnificence has been lost in the sauce due to the incomparable exploits of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, is one of the most dangerous weapons in the country. He’s passed for 2,304 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 722 yards and eight more scores. But he has yet to face a defense with Michigan’s pass-rush and secondary strength.
Barrett and Jabril Peppers will get most of the spotlight, but also keep your eyes on Michigan’s running back tandem of Chris Evans and De’Veon Smith, and their receiving corps of Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and tight end Jake “Doin’ The” Butt.
When Ohio State has the rock, check for running back Mike Weber, who has over 1,000 yards rushing this year, and receiver/running back/ playmaker extraordinaire Curtis Samuel. On defense, their main man is middle linebacker Raekwon “Incarcerated Scarfaces” McMillan.
Expect Peppers to play more positions than the Kama Sutra. As a linebacker, safety, nickle corner, running back, direct-snap QB, punt and kick returner, maintenance man and carpenter, he’ll have a chance to impact every phase of the game. An electric performance in all three phases of a Michigan victory puts him on par with Lamar Jackson in the Heisman race.
The Best of the Rest Rivalry Games
No. 13 Auburn vs No. 1 Alabama: This year’s Iron Bowl is not to be missed. Alabama’s defense is historically great and their offense, led by true freshman QB Jalen Hurts, averages close to 500 yards per game. Auburn’s defense ain’t on Alabama’s level, but no one’s is.
The Tigers D is no joke, though, and they excel at harassing opposing quarterbacks and bringing some heat. Other than Ohio State vs Michigan, this is the game of the weekend.
No. 5 Washington vs No. 23 Washington State: This Friday afternoon game, known as the The Apple Cup, will determine the Pac-12 North title. The Huskies have bigger visions than the conference title, they have to win their next two games to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth. Check the quarterback play in this one, with Luke Falk, who has 3,935 passing yards this year, directing the ridiculous Air Raid system created by his mad scientist head coach Mike Leach.
Washington’s signal caller Jake Browning has thrown 37 touchdown passes this season. Cougar wide receiver Gabe “Don’t call me Groucho” Marks is the best pass catcher you’ve never heard of. Washington’s receiving corps is blazingly bananas.
Minnesota vs No. 6 Wisconsin: The only thing standing between the Badgers and the Big Ten championship game is this dude. The Badgers have beaten Minnesota 12 straight times in this border rivalry.
Kentucky vs No. 11 Louisville: I’d watch the Cardinals’ QB Lamar Jackson play against Everest College! If Louisville is on TV, watch them.
Notre Dame vs No. 12 USC: The Trojans are on a roll, winners of seven in a row. If they want to still be in the conversation of being legit heavyweights as opposed to being over-inflated featherweights, they need to bury Notre Dame like Frankie did Nicky Santoro and his brother in Casino.
No. 22 Utah vs No. 9 Colorado: If the Buffaloes can win at home against the Utes, they’ll capture the Pac-12 South title a year removed from going 1-8 in conference last year. Now that’s what you call going from ashy to classy.
No. 15 Florida vs No. 14 Florida State: No Seminoles senior class has ever ever ever gone undefeated against Miami and Florida during their careers. This year’s group will do so if they beat the Gators. Florida hopes to make its bones by taking out Alabama in the SEC championship game, so snuffing Florida State would be a good start to that mission.
Dalvin Cook is another player whose greatness was hidden by Lamar Jackson’s brilliance, but he is FSU’s all-time rushing leader, having surpassed the great Warrick Dunn. His total currently stands at 4,166 yards. Cook, only a junior, has rushed for 1,467 yards this season with 17 touchdowns in addition to catching 27 passes for an additional 400 yards.