Who: No. 6 Ohio State
When: Noon ET (ABC)
Place: Ohio Stadium -- Columbus, Ohio
Here we are once again, at the end of a long, disappointing season, and a tilt against the Buckeyes the only thing that could reasonably salvage it. Michigan hasn't done too much salvaging of late; this thing went on the trash heap and was there to stay.
On a basic level, Michigan is still on game away from bowl eligibility, if that at all matters to you (why it would, I don't know). Of course, beating Maryland last week would have done the trick, but we all know how that went.
This has become a familiar feeling over the years, with Michigan walking into Columbus to face the cold smack of reality. The 2008 and 2010 games there stand out, and this one doesn't feel all that different. I was at that 2008 game, and, at the very least Michigan had the first-year coach excuse; on top of that, they trailed just 14-7 at halftime (unsurprisingly, they lost 42-7).
This is what the rivalry has become -- Michigan coming in appearing to be severely overmatched, only to get blown out. Or, they fight hard and deliver a close game, but still a loss.
This won't change until there's a change at the top, but you already knew that.
When Michigan has the ball
Unfortunately for Michigan, this is not the same OSU defense that a number of teams shredded last season (including, of course, the dysfunctional Wolverines themselves.
OSU ranks 17th in defensive FEI, where they finished 42nd last year. The Buckeyes come in at 10th in first down rate and 6th in the available yards category. I don't know that this will find its way into the pantheon of truly excellent Ohio State defenses, but it's pretty good, and has its usual array of talent.
It all starts up front with all-around terror Joey Bosa, who leads the team with 11.5 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss, plus three forced fumbles from his defensive end spot. Whether it's Bosa vs. Mason Cole or Ben Braden, neither matchup will end well for Michigan and poor Devin Gardner.
Bosa gets all the praise, but Michael Bennett is a very good player himself, with 3.0 sacks from the middle.
Junior Joshua Perry leads the team in tackles with 99, and also boasts 3 sacks. Redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee has also had success getting to the quarterback, with 4.5 sacks to his name, second-best on the team.
On paper, he secondary is green, with a sophomore, redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman in there, but its proven to be better than it has been. Safeties Von Bell and Tyvis Powell (he of the 2-point conversion interception in last year's contest) are second and third on the team in tackles, respectively, and both have reeled in three interceptions.
At corner, senior Doran Grant and redshirt freshman Eli Apple lead the way; Grant's got three interceptions of his own, and Apple has two. They've made plays, and with the pressure OSU's front seven is bound to apply, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Gardner tossed two or three to the guys in scarlet and gray.
When the U-M defense is on the field
All season, the narrative has been that the offense continues to let the defense down, with three-and-out after thee-and-out exhausting the defense to the point of being inefficacy. At this point, I think it's safe to say that no matter what the numbers say, this is a pretty forgettable defense. The run defense has been "great," mostly against teams without a pulse, but when met with David Cobb or Jeremy Langford, it folded like a flan in a cupboard.
Save an early season blip against Virginia Tech, the OSU offense, led by redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, hasn't missed a bit. The offense comes in ranked 11th in offensive FEI (they finished 3rd last season).
Unlike Michigan, who has seen its talented quarterback regress and regress, naturally, Urban Meyer slotted in a freshman and the offense is doing just fine. I suppose that's what that whole "coaching" thing is.
In any case, Barrett isn't quite as gifted with his feet as Braxton Miller, but seems like he might be a better passer, to the point that next year's starter has become a real debate. He's completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's also contributed 849 net rushing yards and nine touchdowns, on 5.4 yards per carry. He's got a long of 86, too; while he might not be as gifted as Miller in the ground game, he's still vey, very dangerous when he decides to pull the ball down and go.
Backing him up in the backfield is tailback Ezekiel Elliot, who has 1,061 yards and eight touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry. As is well-known by now, tailbacks haven't often been a central focus in Urban Meyer's offense, but that has changed -- when you have guys like Carlos Hyde and Elliot, you give them the ball. That is called flexibility, another quality supposedly good coaches have (that's just what I hear).
On the outside, Michael Thomas and 34th-year senior Devin Smith led the way with eight touchdowns apiece. Redshirt freshman running back Jalin Marshall has six of his own, not to mention a punt return for a touchdown against Indiana during a four-TD performance. As always, he Buckeyes have size, speed and overall talent here on the outside. Michigan's pass defense has been shaky all year, especially up the seams; I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State connects on at least one deep ball over the top for a score.
This tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs: the Buckeyes had to replace Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and four offensive linemen, and their offense looks like it operates in another dimension, far away from whatever generic brand universe Michigan's comes from.
Michigan's opportunity to extend its season was last week against Maryland -- this is the end of the line.
The Buckeyes just have too much skill on offense, and it's difficult envisioning scenario in which Bosa et al don't make it rough day for Gardner.
Offensively, yes, Michigan did have a big day against the Buckeyes last season. The odds of that happening again, this time on the road against an OSU team that is probably better than last season (that Virginia Tech loss notwithstanding)...well, they're slim, and Slim just left town to find Jim Harbaugh to bribe Jim Harbaugh with Cottage Inn Pizza and Spots wings.
With that said, this isn't a perfect Ohio State team, and yes, Indiana gave them a game last week. The thing is, Michigan's closest talent proximate to Tevin Coleman is a wide receiver, Devin Funchess, who has looked utterly uninterested all season. I'm not sure what his expectations are vis-a-vis the NFL draft, but I'm not sure a season's worth of drops and very little impact on most games will net him a first round grade. In any case, if Michigan is to have any sort of chance, it needs its most talented player to catch the football, period. If he doesn't have his best game of the season, I don't see where any big plays will come from.
This won't be pretty -- but hey, at least the season will be over.
Michigan 14, Ohio State 38.