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Staff Predictions: Michigan vs. Ohio State

The Game is nearly upon us.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, folks, we made it. The last week of the 2022 college football regular season is finally here. The biggest game of the weekend — as it usually is — is No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State. With a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff up for grabs, both teams duke it out with everything on the line.

The Maize n Brew staff got together once more to put some thoughts and predictions out there for this weekend’s rendition of the best rivalry in sports: The Game.

After a nail-biting victory over Illinois last weekend, the Michigan Wolverines turn their attention to their most hated rival. Let’s start hate week off with a bang — what’s one thing you absolutely cannot stand about OSU?

Von Lozon: This isn’t my No. 1 by any means, but the fact they emphasize the word “Thee” before saying Ohio State University has always rubbed me the wrong way. Like they are some elitist brand that everyone knows — THEE Google; THEE Microsoft. Lame.

Zach Breininger: How INANE their fans are. OH-IO, the level of disrespect for all things Michigan, crossing out M’s, and the general smugness about their program are things that should only be expected from petulant elementary school children. But, alas, god gave us Ohio State fans to test our patience.

Andrew Bailey: As a true hater that wakes up extra early to ensure more time to hate, I cannot stand several things involving their program and the surrounding fan base. Firstly, I hate the fact that the 1954 game (Woody Hayes’ first undefeated season) was sparked by a goal line stand, except the U-M running back broke the plain with half his body. I hate that in 2006 the Buckeyes had new grass turf installed that ruined the footing in the game. I hate that in 2016 JT wasn’t marked short. I hate that after Michigan beat them last year it was only because CJ Stroud had the “flu,” and it was cold. For the fans, I hate the entitlement and we’ll keep it moving.

David Woelkers: Growing up, my dad would tell my sister and I to plug our noses as we drove through Columbus on road trips, in order to “avoid breathing in the stink of OSU.” Pack a gas mask if you go to the game!

Dan Plocher: Is everything an option? But seriously, their fans are unbelievably annoying. I hate how long it took us to beat them again and all of the posting of it’s been X many days since the team up north beat us. Every post, comment, whatever on social media is met with those kinds of things. I’m tired of things trending in their favor and I’m ready for Michigan to swing the rivalry back in their favor.

Now with that out of the way, let’s get to some #analysis. We all know Michigan’s biggest weakness — the downfield passing game. What is one weakness you see on this OSU team you hope Michigan takes advantage of?

Von Lozon: Ohio State’s red zone defense, statistically speaking, is actually one of the worst in the country (No. 118 overall). Granted, the Buckeyes have only allowed opponents to get to the red zone 22 times, but they have allowed 20 scores in within the 20-yard line this season, including 13 touchdowns. The Wolverines NEED to capitalize with touchdowns in the red zone in this game. As reliable as Jake Moody is at kicking field goals, getting three points on a drive that winds up in the red zone isn’t going to cut it.

Zach Breininger: Much like Michigan’s offense can get knocked off schedule when the running game sputters, Ohio State’s offense is also susceptible to stalling if teams can keep everything in front of them. It’s undeniable they have the best wideouts in America, but they can only do so much in 3rd and long situations. Getting the Buckeyes into uncomfortable passing situations won Michigan the game last year, and the Wolverines will have to repeat that if they hope to win on Saturday.

Andrew Bailey: Physicality at the point of attack. Ohio State is a finesse football team that wants to spread you out and pick you apart. More or less: “our athletes are better than yours and our scheme will help exploit that.” When the Buckeyes are forced to play physical, downhill football for three hours, they crack, especially if they cannot run the football.

David Woelkers: Mazi Smith and Mason Graham making mince meat of the Buckeyes’ offensive line will be huge in how this game shapes up. If they can’t break through like they have been this season, CJ Stroud is just too good of a QB to not get unsettled.

Dan Plocher: I’m just going to say the defense overall. Penn State and Maryland kept things close by throwing the football a lot. Outside of Northwestern and Notre Dame, no one has really succeeded in winning in the trenches and keeping that potent OSU offense off the field. I’m interested to see if Michigan can maintain time of possession and put points on the board. I’m even more interested to see how OSU responds when and if the Wolverines can do that.

The ultimate goal these days is to get to the CFP, so here is a quick hypothetical scenario. Should the Wolverines lose The Game, do you think there is a good chance they still get in? Or do you think the CFP committee would leave them out no matter what?

Von Lozon: There is a shot. Michigan will not only have to prove to the committee it’s one of the best teams in the nation by losing a tight game to OSU, but it will need one of either USC or TCU to lose a game. With USC playing Notre Dame this weekend, perhaps that will be the one that ultimately helps the Wolverines. The Trojans will also play in the Pac-12 Championship, so that will be another ample opportunity to get a second loss. TCU has West Virginia and the Big 12 Championship left on its schedule.

Zach Breininger: The first necessary condition for Michigan to make the playoff in the event of a loss is it has to be a close loss. Michigan can’t get boat raced like in 2018 and 2019 if it expects to have a shot at the CFP. The second necessary condition is that either TCU or USC lose a game. Unfortunately, I think the committee values weaker conference champions over better teams that didn’t win their conference (barring the SEC, which gets special treatment). That said, I actually believe both conditions will be met, but remember that the committee can give Michigan an acceptable consolation prize: the Rose Bowl.

Andrew Bailey: Michigan has a great chance to make the CFP as long as The Game is close. Let’s presume LSU loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship, so they are eliminated and the nightmare two SEC teams scenario doesn’t happen again. Georgia and Ohio State would be locks with two spots remaining. If USC drops a game against Notre Dame or in the Pac-12 Championship, they are eliminated with two losses, and the same with Clemson who are a long shot to begin with. Michigan and TCU are both afforded the luxury because they never had that “one” game where they lost. They found a way week-in, and week-out, and now they are rewarded for it. That said, if Michigan wins in Columbus, nothing else matters except beating Iowa again.

David Woelkers: Tennessee losing certainly opened up a potential window for Michigan to sneak in, but right now the question mark is USC. In my view, the Wolverines need the Trojans to drop one of their final two games before I’d feel comfortable saying a close loss in The Game doesn’t affect their playoff hopes.

Dan Plocher: I give it a 35% chance they still make it in. The Game has to be close, then they would need some help. USC and Clemson would probably both have to lose AND LSU cannot be a two-loss SEC champ. The Tennessee loss to South Carolina put Michigan’s odds a little higher with a loss.

Give me one bold prediction for this game.

Von Lozon: Blake Corum not only plays, but goes for 200+ rushing yards. Michigan is going to need everything it can get out of their Heisman-worthy running back to try and win this game and get to the Big Ten Championship.

Zach Breininger: C.J. Stroud throws 2+ picks. Now is the perfect time for Michigan to deploy some exotic zone schemes to confuse both Ohio State’s stellar pass catchers and quarterback. The defense hasn’t played much zone all year, but when they have (a la second half at Rutgers) they’ve added a whole new wrinkle to their ability to suffocate offenses.

Andrew Bailey: Running back Donovan Edwards has a career day for total yards and is an X-factor on the ground and through the air.

David Woelkers: Buckle up, it’s going to at least one overtime.

Dan Plocher: Blake Corum plays, but Donovan Edwards has the most total yards on the team. Michigan uses Edwards in the slot and out of the backfield to help release pressure from McCarthy. Edwards finishes with more than 120 total yards.

The final score will be...

Von Lozon: I’ve got OSU winning and covering the spread. I’m thinking something along the lines of 35-24.

Zach Breininger: Sadly, I’m thinking it will be a 31-20 Ohio State victory. I like this Michigan team a lot, but the one-dimensionality of the offense prevents me from being more optimistic about the outcome.

Andrew Bailey: Michigan, 34-27.

David Woelkers: 35-28, OSU in OT.

Dan Plocher: 28-20, Ohio State. I am nervous about Michigan’s defense being able to hold the OSU offense down in The Shoe, where they haven’t won since 2000. It’s close until the Buckeyes score late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.