Michigan-Ohio State Betting Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 11/15/2007
I am unapologetically pro-Big Ten, and especially pro-Michigan, so you may want to take everything I say in this article with a grain of salt. That being said, I don't buy the argument that the Big Ten is a pathetically weak conference this year, and I think that the Big Game on Saturday still sets up as one of the highlights of the college football calendar this year as it does every year.
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The argument you'll hear all over the place is that this game lost a lot of its meaning and luster because both teams lost last weekend. That's absolute garbage. Ohio State lost to a very solid Illinois team that could beat a lot of top programs if they are at their best, as they were on Saturday. There is no shame in that. Michigan lost to an underachieving but talented Wisconsin team. More importantly, it was a game that was essentially meaningless to them. Win or lose they still had a shot at the Big Ten championship with a win over Ohio State. They didn't play their star running back, Mike Hart, at all, and QB Chad Henne only played part of the first quarter. That means that most of the offense was on the bench, and yet they were still close until late in the game. The game on Saturday is still a showdown between the top two teams in the conference with the conference title, a BCS berth, and maybe more on the line. It's also one of the biggest rivalries in the country in front of the biggest crowd in football. In short, this game matters about as much as it always does.
When you're handicapping this game, here are five things you will want to keep in mind. They may matter or they may not, but they have to be considered. As I write this Ohio State is favored by three, with the game being played at Michigan:
1. The running game. The biggest storyline in this game is probably the running game. More specifically, it's Michigan's ability to pile up rushing yards. Before last week, Ohio State had the third best run defense in the country. Juice Williams and Illinois absolutely tore them apart, though. They put up 260 yards and essentially won the game on the ground. If Mike Hart is ready to go, as it seems he will be, then the contest gets interesting. Few runners in the country are as good as Hart, and he could test the defense mightily. That's especially true if Chad Henne is less than 100 percent, or if he misses part or all of the game, because that will make Hart that much more important to Michigan's chances on offense. The only thing that has been able to contain Hart so far this year is his ankle, and Ohio State's confidence has to be shaken after last week, so this could be interesting.
2. Lloyd Carr. As a Michigan fan I have spent a long time cursing Carr the last few years, and especially earlier this year. Through all of the team's problems, though, the players have always been very vocal in their support of their coach. In all likelihood this is Carr's last game in the Big House, and last regular season game at the helm of the Wolverines. He hasn't done particularly well against Ohio State of late, and that's being kind. I strongly suspect that his team will be playing with extra effort in an attempt to send their coach out on a high note. Add to that the fact that Hart, Henne, Jake Long and the other stars of this team have never beaten Ohio State, and the Wolverines have a pretty significant emotional boost coming into the game.
3. Michigan's defensive inconsistency. The Wolverines defense against Oregon and Appalachian State was, in a word, awful. The game was essentially lost thanks to the total inability of the team to stop mobile quarterbacks. They seemed to solve some of the problems and improve gradually during the season, even putting in stellar efforts at times such as in the win in Northwestern or late in the comeback against Michigan State. But then Wisconsin came along, and the defense regressed badly. They were sloppy, they seemed disinterested much of the time, and they made it much too hard for freshman QB Ryan Mallett to win the game. Ohio State's offense hasn't been tested consistently by tough opposition, but it has passed every test it has had with flying colors for the most part. If the Michigan defense plays to its potential then this game could be interesting. If not then it could get ugly.
4. Ohio State's ability to rebound. With their loss last week, the Buckeyes dropped hard in the rankings. They were secure in the No. 1 spot as long as they kept winning, but few in the media or the public seemed to believe that they belonged there. Now they are totally out of the national title picture, and have a Rose Bowl as likely their best potential postseason landing spot. If the team is frustrated and disappointed by that then they could be at less than their best on Saturday. Coach Jim Tressel will work hard to avoid that letdown, and he was successful on that front earlier this year. His team came back from a crushing loss to Florida and the departure of much of their offense to win their first 10 games of the year.
5. Todd Boeckman. Boeckman has been a very good freshman quarterback, but he is still a freshman. Playing in the chaos and intensity of this game in front of a very vocal and angry Michigan crowd will be a big test for him, as it is for anyone who sees it for the first time. Before last weekend's mess against Illinois, Boeckman's worst game had come on the road in Purdue, where he threw three interceptions in front of a hostile crowd. The magnitude of the hostility will be very much magnified here, and Boeckman will have to rebound from his worst performance of the season last week. How you think he will do here will largely determine how you will bet on this game.