Last year at this time, Michigan bowed out of playing rival Ohio State due to COVID-19 concerns and the fear of getting embarrassed with a depleted roster.
This year, the Wolverines will host the Buckeyes with the Big Ten East division crown at stake. Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) bounced back from its lone hiccup, blowing a second-half lead in a loss to Michigan State, with three straight wins, including a 59-18 blowout of Maryland on Saturday.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh vowed over the summer at Big Ten football media day to beat Ohio State “or die trying.” Harbaugh is 0-5 against the Buckeyes, having lost four games head-to-head with Urban Meyer and one game to Meyer’s successor, Ryan Day.
“Both teams have a lot on the line,” Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference. “It’s a true playoff in that sense. In the College Football Playoff world, this is the start of the playoffs. The team that wins will advance. The team that doesn’t, won’t. It’s that and it’s also, you know, the big game, the game, the rivalry.”
Oddsmakers installed Ohio State as a 7.5-point favorite on the road when the week began. The Buckeyes are coming off a 56-7 win over Michigan State and are peaking at the right time. But Michigan could make it a game if bookend edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo can get pressure on OSU quarterback C.J. Stroud. Hutchinson and Ojabo are tied for the Big Ten lead with 10 sacks apiece.
On offense, Michigan will look to control the game on the ground with Hassan Haskins, Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum, if Corum can return from injury. Corum recently used his NIL money to donate turkeys to needy families in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a nice gesture for the holiday season.
A stable ground game would keep Ohio State’s high-powered offense, which has scored 50 or more points in six of its last eight games, off the field.
Harbaugh mentioned legendary coaches of the rivalry – Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler – in discussing Michigan’s approach to Saturday’s game.
“We’ll be channeling Bo and Woody: blocking and tackling,” Harbaugh said. “The game will, in large part, come down to it.”
On the hardwood, the Big Ten is not off to the same strong non-conference start it has been the prior two seasons. Among notable upsets, Maryland lost at home to George Mason and Rutgers lost at home to Lafayette.
Illinois has dropped games to Marquette and Cincinnati, though was without preseason All-Big Ten player of the year Kofi Cockburn in the Marquette loss due to an NCAA suspension.
In last week’s Gavitt Games, the Big East went 6-2 against the Big Ten, with Michigan State over Butler and Indiana over St. John’s as the only two Big Ten wins.
The lone Big Ten team off to strong start against high-level competition is Purdue (5-0), which took down North Carolina and Villanova to win the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Connecticut and jump to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 this week. The Boilermakers have four players averaging in double figures in scoring, including sophomore center Zach Edey, who is at 17 points and 8.2 rebounds over his first five games.
Edey scored 21 points, and returning All-Big Ten forward Trevion Williams had nine points and five rebounds in Purdue’s 80-74 win over Villanova.
“Trevion and Zach is a really good 1-2 punch, and I thought offensively they had an above average game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Between them they had 30 and 10 (rebounds), and I thought Trevion’s defense — when we switched five ways — he got down in a stance and was the difference. It doesn’t show up in this box score, but it shows up with our staff.”
Wisconsin can clinch its fourth Big Ten West division football crown in the last six years if it beats Minnesota on Saturday. …. Iowa would win the Big Ten West with a win over Nebraska on Friday and a Wisconsin loss Saturday. …. Minnesota would win the division if it beats Wisconsin and Iowa loses on Friday.