Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Wolverines, Saturday Nov. 28, Noon ET
It's good to have it back. This is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. The last time it was either relevant or particularly evenly-matched, though, was in 2006 when Ohio State, ranked No. 1 in the country, beat second-ranked Michigan 42-39 in an all-time classic game. Since then Michigan has won just once and has gone through some dark days - not to mention three coaching changes. The one Michigan win came when Ohio State was going through a coaching change of their own - Jim Tressel had been fired before the 2011 season, and things were not going smoothly under interim coach and current defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
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This game really, really matters for both teams. Not as much as it could, though, thanks to the Buckeyes. If they had beaten Michigan State last week then this game would have been a playoff for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game - and quite possibly the national playoff, too. Now, though, the winner here needs some help. They need the Nittany Lions to upset Michigan State. If that happens then the winner here will play Iowa in Indianapolis next week. That isn't likely to happen, but it shouldn't affect the intensity of this game even a little bit.
Ohio State at Michigan Betting Storylines
Perhaps more than any game played in the country this year, this one is all about the coaches. There isn't a matchup on the schedule this year that features too larger-than-life guys - and they couldn't be more different. Urban Meyer is very intense and has had massive success everywhere he has gone. Jim Harbaugh hasn't grabbed the brass ring like Meyer has, but he has still had massive success everywhere. They are great coaches, and they already clearly and intensely don't like each other. Meyer has cultivated a strong hatred for Michigan ever since arriving in Columbus - he won't even use the letter M in the week before The Game. Harbaugh grew up around Michigan - his dad was an assistant for the great Bo Schembechler - and hates Ohio State right down to his bones. Two exceptional coaches wanting nothing more than to crush their opponent. It doesn't get any better than that.
As good as the coaches both are, it's a good bet that Harbaugh is enjoying his job right now a whole lot more than Meyer is. After a very ugly loss to Michigan State last week, the obvious tension surrounding the team went public. Running back Ezekiel Elliott blamed the coaches for the loss and promised he wouldn't be back next year. QB Cardale Jones also foreshadowed his early departure after the season. It made public what had seemed clear all year - that the team just didn't seem to be on the same page like they were last year. It would be easy for this to all spiral out of control now that the dreams of a repeat championship are on life support. Publicly, the team has made up and everything is okay again. How much you believe that will determine a lot about how you bet this game.
The biggest enemy for the Wolverines could be themselves. Things have not been very good there for a long time. The last year of the Lloyd Carr era was just kind of sad. Rich Rodriguez struggled from the outset and never really got things moving in the right direction. Brady Hoke started with promise but quickly devolved into a farce. The team has long been a bit of a joke. A big joke, really. Things, though, are dramatically different now. The attitude around the team, and the competence they play with, is so dramatically different than what has come before that it seems unrecognizable. With that change, though, this game has become more important than it has been in a long time and more realistically winnable than it has been for too long. The crowd will be more insane than usual. A massive number of very high-profile recruits are attending the game. The pressure will be incredible. Given all that, it would be very easy for this team to play with too much energy and too little focus. To win this game, the Wolverines need to avoid being their own worst enemies.
Ohio State at Michigan Odds and Betting Trends
This line has been on the move. Both teams have been small favorites at some point in early betting - less than a field goal in both cases. Now, though, the line has settled as a pick 'em, just as it should be in this rivalry. A small majority of bets have been on Ohio State, but not enough that we should expect major movement one way or the other barring a significant development. The total opened at 45 and has shown slow movement upwards to 47.
The Buckeyes are 6-2 ATS in the last eight meetings between these teams and 4-1 ATS in the last five games in Michigan. Five of the last seven games in Michigan have gone "over" the total. Ohio State has gone "under" the total in their last five conference games, while Michigan has gone over in each of their last six.
NCAA Football Expert Picks Against the Spread: Ohio State at Michigan Predictions
I think Ohio State will be able to shake off their personal issues and be ready for this one. And I don't think that it will be enough. Michigan has been extremely well-coached this year, and they will be ready on both sides of the ball for this one. They have reasonable personnel matchups in key spots and aren't likely to be exposed in significant ways by these Buckeyes. It is going to be a tough, tight game, but the value is on the home team here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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