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Nick Baumgardner | Detroit Free Press | November 21, 2018

Ohio State vs. Michigan preview: Wolverines' confidence is very real — and it should be

Michigan vs. Ohio State: Inside The Game

The narrative entering the last decade of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry has been mostly consistent.

If Michigan played its best game, and Ohio State had a rough day, the Wolverines could win.

This is not that.

Michigan will enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday as the only team unbeaten in Big Ten play, with eight straight conference wins by an average of nearly 24 points. The Wolverines are a College Football Playoff contender. They're the favorite this weekend. And they know it.

Just ask them.

"(A win) would mean everything, for us and our season, to keep it going. We haven't beaten (Ohio State) in a while," Michigan co-captain Devin Bush Jr. said Monday. "That's something we really want to do.

"And that's something we're going to do."

The situation of Karan Higdon guaranteeing a win on Monday was awkward. A reporter literally asked him to offer the guarantee. So he did. Some people got pretty upset about it. Jim Harbaugh thought the question was "silly."

That's hard to argue.

But that's also beside the point.

Because the point here is clear: Michigan's entering the biggest week of its season with unapologetic confidence. Confidence built over the course of a 10-game winning streak. Confidence that has been earned and justified.

"He's our captain," Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said, when asked about Higdon's statement Tuesday night. "I don't think there's any lack of confidence from any player in that locker room.

"I think everybody feels that way. He's our captain and we support him."

Winners don't tip-toe into games like this.

They attack them.

Michigan's rolling toward Columbus as a football team that believes it's better than Ohio State. With, perhaps, the exception of the 2016 game, that has not been the case during the Urban Meyer era. Not like this.

It's hard to blame them.

When you step back and analyze the matchup top to bottom, a theme develops over the past 11 games.

Ohio State has the No. 2-ranked pass offense in the country. Michigan's pass defense is ranked No. 1. The Buckeyes have been slightly above average on the ground, ranking 52nd in rushing yards. Michigan has been elite defensively against the run, at 14th.

MORE: Michigan fourth, Ohio State No. 10 in latest CFP rankings

Ohio State's defense gives up 402.6 yards per game. Michigan's offense puts up 429.6. The Buckeyes allowed 579 yards last week against a Maryland team that mustered 220 against the Wolverines. Michigan's offensive output last week? 507 yards. Michigan and Ohio State have six common opponents.

The Buckeyes' average margin of victory in those games is 16.5.

Michigan's is 27.

Michigan believes it's the better team, and for the first time in a long time it's incredibly difficult to argue against that.

Because based on everything we know right now, they are.

The gravity of what has happened in this game since 2000 exists. Michigan hasn't found much success against OSU the past 18 years, winning only twice since 2001. The Wolverines never have beaten Meyer.

And while a loss Saturday doesn't change the fact that Michigan was able to turn last season's negative momentum toward a positive direction, it would stain the entire year, go down as a colossal disappointment and a missed opportunity.

MORE: Week 13 college football schedule

So, there's pressure on Michigan.

But there has been pressure on Michigan for 11 months. This has been an all-in season for the Wolverines since they re-tooled everything over the offseason. And the pressure has been building since the season started with a disappointing seven-point loss at Notre Dame.

"I always look at pressure as life-giving energy," Harbaugh said this week.

Michigan's confidence hasn't crossed any uncharted boundaries. Noah Furbush called this the "biggest game I'll ever play in." Harbaugh declared this the biggest thing in Michigan's "football lives."

Rashan Gary, always cordial with reporters, let the media know Tuesday he didn't have much time for questions.

"Everybody knows what week it is," Gary said. "I'm focused. I'm trying to hurry up here, get back to watching film."

Michigan's very poised right now. Not boastful, but nowhere near nervous. Just confident.

It's hard to blame them.

This article is written by Nick Baumgardner from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCredpublisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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