12:00 PM EST, FOX – Line: Ohio State -8.5, Over/Under: 50.5
There’s no better way to celebrate Rivalry Week than with College Football’s most storied rivalry, which is what we’ll be getting as the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes meet the No. 13 Michigan Wolverines in the Regular Season Finale from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With the announcement of the four teams that will be selected for the College Football Playoff little more than a week away, it’s almost impossible to imagine some permutation of the grouping consisting without Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 in Big 10). In fact, it would be hard to argue that they aren’t the top team in the country. Indeed, the Buckeyes haven’t missed even a fraction of a beat under Ryan Day, who in his first year as Head Coach has successfully helmed arguably a more impressive side than that of any put together by his predecessor, Urban Meyer. Statistically speaking, this group is a very rare breed, ranking first in the country in both Points Scored (49.4) and Points allowed (10.5), all the while outgaining their opponents by a whopping margin of 313.3 Total Yards per Game. The Offense has been nothing short of prolific, churning out 531.0 Total Yards per Game, including 248.3 Yards via the Pass and another 282.7 Yards courtesy of the Run, totaling 500 or more Yards on seven occasions this season. In his first season as the Starting Quarterback since transferring from Georgia, Justin Fields (69.4%, 2,352 YDS, 9.3 Y/A, 33 TD, 1 INT), has already left quite an impression on the faithful in Columbus, ranking Second in the Big 10 in Total Yards (2,797) and First in Total Touchdowns (43), which is also good for Fourth Overall in the country. The former No. One Overall Recruit has lived up to the hype, completing an efficient 69.4% of his Passes for a 213.8 Yards per Game on 9.3 Yards per Attempt with Thirty-Three Touchdowns in comparison to just One Interception, while also tormenting Defenses with his legs, rushing for another 445 and Ten Touchdowns on 105 Carries. However, he’s been far from the only playmaker on this unit, with Junior Tailback, J.K. Dobbins (219 CAR, 1,446 YDS, 6.6 Y/C, 15 TD), recapturing the form that made him so promising as a Freshman, rushing for a career-high 1,446 Yards and Fifteen Touchdowns. In the best shape of his tenure in Columbus, Dobbins has rushed for at least two scores in four consecutive games and has topped 100 Rushing Yards on seven occasions thus far. Defensively, Ohio State has been just as good, relegating the opposition to a scant 217.7 Total Yards, including 126.2 Yards against the Pass and another 91.5 Yards versus the Run. Nobody has managed to hang 300 Yards of Offense on them yet this season, with the closest being Michigan State (287 YDS) in a 34-10 victory back in early October. There’s plenty of talent to be found here too, with arguably the top player in the country stalking the trenches in the form of Chase Young (38 TKL, 20 TFL, 17 SK, 7 FF, 1 PD), who has been a menacing presence when he’s been on the field in 2019. Despite being suspended for two games, the Junior Defensive End has still managed to author one of the most statistically impressive campaigns in recent memory, leading both the Big 10 and NCAA in Sacks (17) and Forced Fumbles (7), while also pacing the Conference in Tackles for Loss (20). The consensus top prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft made his grand return in what was the Buckeyes’ major test of the season, a meeting with No. 8 Penn State, and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, proceeded to wreck havoc on the Nittany Lions with Nine Tackles, including Four or Loss, Three Sacks, and a pair of Forced Fumbles. Before a deafening crowd at the horseshoe, the hosts opened a commanding 21-0 lead early in the Third Quarter, with Dobbins rushing for a pair of Touchdowns, and Fields hitting Senior Receiver, K.J. Hill (42 REC, 469 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 7 TD), for a 24-Yard Touchdown strike. The visitors would battle back, cutting the deficit to four heading into the final stanza, only for Fields to silence them for good with his second Touchdown Pass of the day, this one going Twenty-four Yards to Sophomore Wideout, Chris Olave (38 REC, 628 YDS, 16.5 Y/R, 10 TD). In the end, it was the complete performance against a Top-10 opponent that Day had been searching for, with Ohio State rolling up 417 Yards of Total Offense on Twenty-Seven First Downs DESPITE committing an uncharacteristic Three Turnovers, with Fields accounting for 256 Total Yards and two scores, while Dobbins added 157 Rushing Yards after being held below the 100-Yard Threshold in consecutive contests. The Defense was once again dominant with Young leading the charge, limiting Penn state to a season-low 227 Total Yards and Fifteen First Downs, knocking their Quarterback, Sean Clifford, out of the action in the process. With that victory, the Buckeyes booked a third consecutive trip to the Big 10 Championship Game, and the only thing keeping them from completing their first unbeaten stretch in league play since 2014 is Michigan, whom they haven’t lost to since 2011, turning the most celebrated rivalry in the sport into a very one-sided affair.
Meanwhile, we’re about to see just how legitimate this late-season surge really is for Michigan (9-2, 6-2 in Big 10), who on the surface appear to have found themselves heading into the Regular Season Finale. Back on October 19th, the sky was falling in Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines fell short in a 21-28 defeat at Penn State, leaving Jim Harbaugh’s side 5-2 (3-2 in league play), with those two losses against the only ranked opponents on their schedule. With national criticism raining down on the program for a variety of reasons ranging from the Head Coach’s inability to succeed in the biggest of games, to an Offense led by Shea Patterson (59.5%, 2,523 YDS, 8.4 Y/A, 21 TD, 5 INT), which at that point had been incredibly disappointing, it was dark days for Michigan, indeed. However, if we’re going to criticize Harbaugh, Patterson, and the program when they’re not performing well, we’ve got to give them credit when they’re playing well, which has been the case for past five weeks now. After that fateful trip to Happy Valley, the Wolverines have looked like a completely different team, winning four consecutive games which has built the requisite momentum needed to head into the only game that matters on their schedule. It all started with a convincing 45-14 drubbing of No. 15 Notre Dame in which he hosts pummeled the Irish to the tune of a season-high 303 Rushing Yards, followed by blowouts at Maryland (38-7), at home against instate rival Michigan State (44-10), and most recently at Indiana (39-14). During this stretch, the Offense has averaged 41.5 Points per Game on 422.8 Total Yards, a far cry from the 29.0 Points on 392.1 Total Yards. Furthermore, they’ve topped 400 Total Yards on seven occasions thus, with three of them coming in the last four games alone. As they always do, Turnovers have played a huge role in this disparity, with Harbaugh’s charges committing only two in the last four outings, in comparison to fourteen in the seven games that preceded this run. And then there’s Patterson, who in Twenty-Four Games with program following his transfer from Mississippi, appears to have saved his best for last. The Senior Quarterback served as the poster boy for the Offense’s struggles earlier this season, completing just 57.4% of his Attempts for an average of 221.7 Yards on 7.68 Yards per Attempt with just Nine Touchdowns opposed to Four Interceptions throughout the first seven outings, but has since elevated his play, and by extension the Offense as a whole, since then, connecting on a much more efficient 63.6% of his Passes for 250.5 Yards per Game on 10.1 Yards per Attempt, with Twelve Touchdowns and only One Interception. For the first time in his career in Ann Arbor, he’s seeing the field in it’s totality, and has exhibited the arm strength and accuracy to strike downfield. In his last two games alone, he’s passed for 384 and 366 Yards, which marks the first time that he’s posted consecutive 300-Yard Passing Games. Needless to say, this is a very different team when he’s playing like this, which was apparent in aforementioned victory over Indiana last weekend. Patterson torched the Hoosiers for 366 Yards and a career-high Five Touchdowns, the first of which went to Junior Receiver, Donovan Peoples-Jones (30 REC, 335 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 5 TD), with three more going to fellow classmate, Nico Collins (31 REC, 649 YDS, 20.9 Y/R, 7 TD). The latter consistently used his size to come down with eh football, hauling in Six Receptions for a season-high 165 Yards, highlighted by a 76-Yard score midway through the Third Quarter. Defensively, the Wolverines continued to play at the high level that we’ve come to expect from them, relegating the Hoosiers to 321 Total Yards, which was actually the first time in which they’ve relinquished over 300 Yards since the Season Opener against Middle Tennessee State. On the season, this unit is allowing just 16.2 Points per Game (10th Overall) on 268.2 Total Yards, including 161.0 Yards against the Pass and another 107.1 Yards versus the Run. This is definitely a younger group in comparison to the loaded group that preceded it in 2018 that sent so many of their number to the NFL, but they’ve nonetheless performed beyond expectations, though they’ll be tested against the highest-scoring team in the country today. We’ll see if this momentum that Michigan has built on both sides of the football will carry over into this meeting with Ohio State, for it really can’t be overstated just how crucial this particular affair is for all parties involved. For the Wolverines, they’ve lost seven consecutive meetings to their hated rivals, allowing 39.3 Points per Game, including an embarrassing Sixty-Two Points in last year’s 39-62 defeat at Columbus. For Harbaugh, he has yet to defeat the Buckeyes in four opportunities, which has been arguably the biggest sticking point when discussing the Michigan Alum. Another revealing trend in these meeting has been that they’ve had a terrible habit of hurting themselves, losing the battle of Turnovers in all but one of these seven affairs, with an overall Differential of Minus-7.