Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh desperately needs to win a game his team isn’t supposed to win.
Having gone 1-6 in matchups against Top 10 teams in his three years in Ann Arbor, Mich., he’ll get another chance for a breakthrough win when the Wolverines (8-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) host No. 8 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1) at the Big House.
Despite that home-field advantage, the Wolverines are nearly two touchdown underdogs entering the 113th edition of “The Game,” which will be televised at 11 a.m. CT on Fox.
“It’s our team’s opportunity to put an exclamation mark on the season,” said Harbaugh. “They are a really talented team, very well coached, (have) really good players.”
As for the Wolverines, they haven’t been nearly as good as Harbaugh had hoped this season.
Michigan fans are aware that none of their eight wins this season have come against winning teams. The combined records of the teams Michigan has beaten is 34-52. Also, Michigan’s five victories in the Big Ten have come against Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland. Combined, those teams have won just 12 of 40 conference games.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have dominated Michigan in recent years by winning 12 of 13, including the last five.
If Harbaugh is going to end that skid, he’ll likely have to do it without quarterback Brandon Peters. Peters was shaken up in last week’s 24-10 loss to Wisconsin and hasn’t cleared concussion protocols.
If that doesn’t change before kickoff, fifth-year senior John O’Korn will get the start for Michigan. While he’s passed for 761 yards, O’Korn only has one touchdown pass and has thrown five interceptions. Peters has thrown four TD passes with no interceptions.
Meyer said Ohio State’s defensive game plan will be more focused on Michigan’s ability to grind out rushing yardage with Karan Higdon (874 yards, 10 touchdowns and Chris Evans (594 yards, 6 touchdowns).
“They’re going to be a downhill rushing team. That’s pretty much been their MO,” said Meyer.
Meanwhile, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett could keep pressure on the Wolverines’ secondary the entire game. He’s passed for 2,698 yards and 32 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He also has eight rushing touchdowns and 605 yards on 115 carries to complement J.K. Dobbins, who has surpassed 1,000 yards rushing and scored six touchdowns.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (44.9 points per game) and is fifth in scoring defense (19.8 ppg). Meanwhile, Michigan is No. 8 in the league in scoring offense (26.3 ppg) and third in scoring defense (17.1 ppg).
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
(All times Central)
Iowa 56, at Nebraska 14
(Iowa improves to 7-5, 4-5 SEC; at Nebraska 4-8, 3-6 SEC)
Ohio State (9-2) at Michigan (8-3), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, Fox
Indiana (5-6) at Purdue (5-6),Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2
Penn State (9-2) at Maryland (4-7), Saturday 2:30 p.m., BTN
Wisconsin (11-0) at Minnesota (5-6), 2:30 p.m. CT, ABC
Michigan State (8-3) at Rutgers (4-7), Saturday 3 p.m. Fox
Northwestern (8-3) at Illinois (2-9), Saturday 3 p.m. CT, FS1
- Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0): Last Week – W, Michigan, 24-10. The Impact – Badgers have proven to be the best team in the Big Ten but that might not be good enough to put them in the hunt for a national title unless they win the league championship in two weeks. Badgers’ weak strength of schedule won’t be helped by Saturday’s game at Minnesota, which has lost six of eight.
- Ohio State (9-2, 7-1): Last Week – W, Illinois, 52-14, The Impact – Talk about optimism, Buckeyes still haven’t given up hope of making the CFP’s final four teams despite being ranked ninth this week. There’s no way that many dominoes can fall in their favor, but they’ll still get a good consolation prize by winning at Michigan. Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett played his final home game and added to his legacy of 35 school or league records by becoming the Buckeyes’ all-time leader in rushing yards by a quarterback with 3,070 to move past Braxton Miller.
- Penn State (9-2, 6-2):Last Week – W, Nebraska, 56-44. The Impact – It was probably too late to boost his Heisman chances but Saquan Barkley rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns after failing to surpass 100 in five of six games. Only a junior, Barkley became the Nittany Lions career leader in touchdowns with 39 to move past Lydell Mitchell.
- Michigan State (8-3, 6-2): Last Week – W, Maryland, 17-7. The Impact – Spartans have been at their best in bad weather and proved it against in the snow against Maryland as Brian Lewerke passed for just 20 yards. A win over Rutgers will allow Mark Dantonio’s team to flip last season’s 3-9 record
- Northwestern (8-3, 6-2): Last Week – W, Minnesota, 39-0. The Impact –In what was the Wildcats’ most complete performance, Clayton Thorson tossed three touchdown passes and the Northwestern defense forced five turnovers as Pat Fittzgerald’s team won its sixth straight. After a 2-3 start, Wildcats can win their ninth game on Saturday.
- Michigan (8-3, 5-3): Last Week – L, at Wisconsin, 24-10. The Impact – Jim Harbaugh has restored respect for Michigan football but it hasn’t translated into national dominance. Heading into Saturday’s home game against No. 9 Ohio State, Harbaugh could use a few breaks to go his team’s way. The Wolverines are just 1-6 against Top 10 opponents under his watch.
- Iowa (6-5, 3-5): Last Week – L, Purdue, 24-15. The Impact – What’s happened to the Hawkeyes’ offense? After scoring 55 against Ohio State three weeks ago, Iowa has been outscored 62-29 in consecutive losses and no longer can finish with a winning Big Ten record.
- Purdue (5-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, at Iowa, 24-15. The Impact – After stunning upset at Iowa for first conference road win of season, Boilermakers can qualify for a bowl for first time since 2012 with home win over rival Indiana at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday. QB Elijah Sindelar, who had his first three touchdown effort against the Hawkeyes, has now passed for 1,544 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Boilermakers have only rushed for nine touchdowns this season.
- Indiana (5-6, 2-6): Last Week – W, Rutgers, 41-0. The Impact – Hoosiers need to win the Old Oaken Bucket to reach a bowl, but so does home-standing Purdue. Tom Allen’s team has won two in a row, including shutout of Rutgers. The 14 points IU has given up last two weeks is fewest in back-to-back Big Ten games since consecutive shutouts in 1993. Richard Lagow has thrown for 1,563 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Morgan Ellison has rushed for 688 yards and six TDs.
- Minnesota (5-6, 2-6): Last Week – L, at Northwestern, 39-0. The Impact – J. Fleck’s fleet must have left their oars at home last week. Once week after scoring 54 points against Nebraska, the Gopherss were shut out at Northwestern. QB Demry Croft threw three interceptions and completed just two passes to his receivers.
- Maryland (4-7, 2-6): Last Week – L, at Michigan St., 17-7.The Impact – The Terps’ bid for a bowl game officially ended with their three straight loss. After scoring 42 points in a win over Indiana, Maryland has mustered just 41 total in the losing skid, including 17 points the last two weeks.
- Nebraska (4-7, 3-5): Last Week – L, at Penn State, 56-44. The Impact – Cornhuskers had their best offensive outing in the Big Ten this season, as Tanner Lee passed for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns, including seven receptions by Stanley Morgan Jr. for 185 yards.
- Rutgers (4-7, 3-5): Last Week – L, at Indiana, 41-0. The Impact – A late-season shutout at Indiana isn’t exactly a sign of progress for Chris Ash, and with no bowl invite coming, a home game against Michigan State will be the Scarlet Knights’ last chance to impress. But if nothing else, Ash did see his players end a 16-game skid in Big Ten this season by winning three of four conference games during one stretch.
- Illinois (2-9, 0-8): Last Week – L, at Ohio State, 52-14. The Impact – Illini failed to score in the first half and couldn’t stop Buckeyes from scoring, falling behind 38-0 at the break. Lovie Smith has stuck with a freshman-laden lineup, but he has to be concerned that a loss of confidence has become an issue after nine straight losses.
(Projected winners in bold caps)
IOWA at Nebraska
OHIO STATE at Michigan
Indiana at PURDUE
PENN STATE at Maryland
WISCONSIN at Minnesota
MICHIGAN STATE at Rutgers
NORTHWESTERN at Illinois
Last Week: 6-1
Overall: 72-20 (78.2)
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday,