Staff Predictions: Ohio State vs. Michigan

No. 2 Ohio State is set to host No. 3 Michigan on Saturday at noon.

James Grega

In this spot last year, I picked the Wolverines to come away with a victory over the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor, and boy was I wrong. This year, I am leaning toward the home team once again, but something keeps holding me back.

Michigan will be a hungry football team coming into Ohio Stadium, its seniors having never recorded a win over the Buckeyes. In addition, the program’s first appearance in the Big Ten title game is also on the line. The Wolverines have a nasty defense that is tops in the Big Ten in sacks on the year, and while Urban Meyer seems pleased with the pass protection J.T. Barrett has received since a 62-3 win over Nebraska, I am not so confident the Buckeyes will be able to protect as well against Michigan.

Ohio State fans seem to be in denial about Jabrill Peppers, but the truth is this guy is an absolute playmaker. His stats might not always show it, but he impacts a game more than almost any one player in the county. That said, I think the Buckeye coaching staff will put together a game plan that neutralizes what he can do defensively. 

Truthfully, I could see this game going either way. Both teams have struggled on offense this season while both defenses have been lights-out all year long. With Ohio State playing at home in front of what will likely be a record-setting crowd in decent weather, I am going with the Buckeyes in what is shaping up to be a classic. Dare I say, this one might even go into overtime.

SCORE: Ohio State 31, Michigan 24

Ryan McGlade

The Game. And what a game it should be. The college football universe will be centered around Columbus on Saturday for a top-three matchup in arguably the greatest rivalry in sports.

Both teams will unquestionably be charged-up for this one, a game I see pretty evenly matched.

The Big Ten’s best rush offense (Ohio State) is going up against the conference’s second-best rush defense (Michigan). Each team has a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes boast H-back Curtis Samuel on offense and linebacker Raekwon McMillan on defense, to name a couple, while the Wolverines feature two-way star Jabrill Peppers and tailback De’Veon Smith, for example.

The one discrepancy between these two teams is at quarterback, however. J.T. Barrett of Ohio State is 25-3 as a starter, and Michigan may have to play John O’Korn, who has made only one start for the Maize and Blue after transferring from Houston.

The quarterback is the most important position in football, and I believe the Buckeyes have the better one in this matchup. Barrett has been in a number of games with high implications throughout his career, let alone this season. Head coach Urban Meyer puts a lot of trust in his signal caller and I expect him to do no different on Saturday.

The ultimate equalizer in a game of this magnitude, however, is turnovers. A muffed punt or a fumble when a team is heading in for a touchdown could make the difference in a game like this.

SCORE: Ohio State 31, Michigan 28

Tim Moody

Want to know how this game is going to go? First, let’s check the weather.

As I write this prediction, my iPhone tells me the weather in Columbus on Saturday will be partly cloudy with a high of 52 degrees and a low of 39. If that holds true, Ohio State will beat Michigan.

Do I really put that much weight on the weather? Well, I shouldn’t, but it’s become incredibly clear that this Buckeye offense goes as the weather allows it – Urban Meyer even admitted as much after the closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Michigan State. The Buckeyes curl up into a shell when the weather gets bad, and quarterback J.T. Barrett quite simply can’t throw in the wind.

Without a pass offense, the Buckeyes struggle to move the ball consistently on offense and they get pretty predicable. It turns out it’s easier to play defense when you know what the other team is going to do.

But the weather should be good, which means Barrett should be able to hit the necessary big plays to open up the offense. Also, that means Curtis Samuel will get involved in the deep passing game. I see Samuel having 100 yards rushing and another 100 receiving in a standout performance.

On the other side, even in good weather, I don’t think Michigan has enough to outscore Ohio State, especially if John O’Korn starts at quarterback. Jabrill Peppers is the real deal, though, and he’ll score more than once in this game.

SCORE: Ohio State 31, Michigan 24

Jeff Svoboda

I was looking forward to seeing the penultimate week of regular-season college football in order to inform my prediction for The Game, and instead, the waters seem even muddier than ever. 

Ohio State traveled to take on three-win Michigan State and barely escaped with a 17-16 victory in yet another example of the Buckeye offense trending too J.T. Barrett-centric.

After that game was over, Michigan debuted new starting quarterback John O’Korn and looked disheveled on offense until De’Veon Smith took over in the second half of a 20-10 win vs. Indiana.

So it seems like we have a defensive struggle on our hands upcoming in Ohio Stadium, and both defenses are certainly deserving of the plaudits they have received. I would expect a hard-hitting, physical game played in the 10s or low 20s.

Who has the edge in such a game? Part of me thinks Michigan does. Given O’Korn’s less-than-impressive debut, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Harbaugh pulls out all the stops and leans on do-everything star Jabrill Peppers on offense to squeak out a big play or two. And given Michigan’s success blocking kicks this year, the Ohio State punt team must be on high alert or a game-changing play could be in the cards.

But having watched both teams extensively this year, I think Ohio State is still a smidge better team than Michigan. The way to beat Michigan’s defense – control the line of scrimmage in the run game and use the Wolverines’ aggressiveness against them in the passing game – has been outlined by the Wolverines’ previous foes. And with the home crowd behind it, I think Ohio State’s offense can do just that.

SCORE: Ohio State 24, Michigan 20

Blake Williams 

Michigan week is here and with it comes Ohio State’s one-game season.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now, and while the Buckeyes made fans wait out a nail-bitter against Michigan State, they’ve arrived at The Game with everything on the line. There are reasons to be concerned with Ohio State’s struggles in a road conference game against a recent rival in bad weather, but in most areas I’m willing to give the Buckeyes a pass and look forward. In my mind the final game of the regular season comes down to two matchups.

The first is Ohio State’s offensive line against the Michigan front four. Though the Wolverines enter the game ranked 10th nationally in run defense, I have some faith that the Buckeyes will be able to get things going on the ground. Ohio State’s ability to pass block, however, is concerning, and the Michigan defense is too good to be one-dimensional.

One way to mix things up against the Wolverines will be getting the ball in Curtis Samuel’s hands. My second matchup to watch is the versatile playmakers against Jabrill Peppers. If he can outduel the hybrid defender, Samuel could be the difference in what I expect to be an incredibly close game.

I think the Buckeyes do just enough in those two matchups to complement a very strong effort from the defense and Ohio State gets a home win in dramatic fashion thanks to a go-ahead touchdown from Samuel.

SCORE: Ohio State 24, Michigan 17

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