If you’d have asked me in 2000 what Michigan’s record would be in The Game by 2019, I would have guessed the pendulum would have swung back toward the Buckeyes — but not this far.
2-17?!? (Okay, 2-16 if you take out the Ohio State’s vacated win from 2010.) Would any Buckeye fans in 2000 even take that bet?
Some of it is easy to explain: the law of averages; too much turnover of Michigan coaches and ADs; going against two established Hall of Fame Ohio State coaches. But even all that doesn’t get you to 2-17. You also have to throw in dumb luck: OSU has won all the close ones, including 2006, 2013, 2016. 5-14 is still lopsided, but looks a little better.
And perhaps one more element: whatever the Buckeyes do during the season– and they’ve had great seasons almost every year this century — they always seem to play their best when it counts the most.
Take last year: Ohio State got blown out by Purdue, fer cryin’ out loud, and probably should have lost to Maryland, while Michigan was thrashing Wisconsin, MSU, and Penn State – all ranked. But the Buckeyes managed to play their best game of the season against Michigan, while Michigan played its worst against Ohio State. How do you explain that?
One explanation you can throw out is that it matters more to Ohio State players than Michigan players. When the Wolverines got smacked 62-39 last year, according to the players I interviewed for Overtime, Michigan’s locker room wasn’t just quiet, but eerie.
“A lot of guys were just zoned out, looking into space,” Karan Higdon told me. “It was not just that we lost, but how we lost. No one saw us getting blown out— not the way we’ve been playing. It kinda took your breath away.”
The buses rode back to Ann Arbor in complete silence.
The only answer to the best performance/worst performance question I have is the “Bo Bowl Syndrome”: Once he lost his first Rose Bowl in 1970, 10-3, which he missed thanks to his first heart attack, he lost six more bowl games, including four Rose Bowls. Once he won his first Rose Bowl in 1981, went 5-5 in bowl games his second decade.
Harbaugh didn’t dig the hole Michigan is in now, but the shovel is in his hands. Once he beats the Buckeyes once, I’d wager, the game will revert to being a big football game, instead of scaling Mt. Columbus.
But when that happens is anyone’s guess. Clearly, Ryan Day’s first team doesn’t look like it’s going to make it easy.
Since 2007, when I started this blog, I’ve predicted the winner of this game correctly 11 of 13 times. Granted, it hasn’t been too difficult: When Rodriguez or Hoke’s struggling teams were up against a juggernaut, pick the juggernaut. I’ve incorrectly picked Michigan in 2016 and 2018, when most folks did too. The point is: I’m not blind, or stupid (most days).
Which sets up this year’s prediction, with Ohio State picked as nine-point favorites. There’s a reason for that – lots of them, in fact. Despite having a transfer quarterback and a new coach, the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat. I have detected not one flaw on this Ohio State team, which might be the best they’ve had in many years. They’ve got it all, and they’ve been crushing every team on their schedule.
But the parallels to 1969 are many: an undefeated, top-ranked Buckeye squad going against a Michigan team that grinded the gears early. In 1969, Schembechler suffered the worst loss of his 21 years in Ann Arbor when Missouri smoked them, 40-17, then lost up at Michigan State, 23-12, to stand at 3-2. But then he left some players who hadn’t practiced, including his starting tailback, for the Minnesota game. Down 9-7 at halftime, it looked like his team was about to implode – before quarterback Don Moorhead ignored his hip-pointer and led his team to a 35-9 victory.
The Wolverines had caught fire, tearing through their next three opponents by a combined 143-13 – or 48-4, Fielding Yost-style numbers, before beating the top-ranked, undefeated Buckeyes 24-12 in Ann Arbor.
Fast forward to 2019. With a new offensive coordinator, the Wolverines grind their gears the first half of the season, before almost magically getting it together the second half of their game at Penn State. Though they lost, they outplayed the Lions pretty badly, and showed it was no fluke the next four games, blowing out 8th-ranked Notre Dame and three Big Ten foes 166-45 – or 42-11, modern-day Yost-like numbers. They’re playing their best at the best time, which you couldn’t say about Michigan in 2016 (late loss to Iowa, quarterback injured) or 2018, when Indiana exposed them the week before the OSU game.
Like the 1969 Buckeyes, the 2019 Buckeyes are so strong, that’s their weakeness: they’ve never been punched, let alone gone 15 rounds with a heavy-weight contender. And that could be Michigan’s best chance: get to them early — as they did in 1969, when UM took a 24-12 halftime lead – and see if they can handle it.
For all these reasons – some more rational than others – I’m making a rare, against-the-odds prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan 31.
And if I’m eating crow on Monday – well, I’ve eaten it before, and I prefer it sautéed. But I don’t think I’ll be eating it this year.
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OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!
After five great events from Seattle to San Diego last week, we finished with 100 folks in Flint, and a standing ovation. Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out johnubacon.com/events/.
I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.
Please follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/Johnubacon. A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.6K followers and growing.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!
We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.
Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:
The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in Postgame.com, Yahoo sport’s longform section.
The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed MGoBlog.com
The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.
INTERVIEWS AND STORIES:
REVIEWS AND STORIES
From Greg Dooley’s MVictors.com: “Punching Back.”
And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:
I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.
Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan.
Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!
Again, thanks for your support!