Let’s combine Michigan and Ohio State in a big pot and see what we’ve got: 102 bowl game appearances, 82 Big Ten championships won or shared, 175 consensus All-Americans, 10 Heisman winners, 871 NFL draft picks, 1,863 weeks in the Associated Press poll, 1,940 all-time victories for No. 1 and 2 in all the FBS.
It’s late November, and you know what that means. Turkey leftovers and High Noon somewhere in the Midwest. It’s rivalry week, so Washington and Washington State are deciding the Apple Cup, Ole Miss and Mississippi State the Golden Egg, and Alabama and Auburn the Iron Bowl. Intense conflicts all, and in lots of other places, too. But any Moments-Of-Truth list this weekend of the year must often begin in one of two college towns.
Yep, Columbus. And if not Columbus, then Ann Arbor.
Sad but true fact for the Wolverines: The last time they won at Ohio State, current star running back Blake Corum was a week from being born and Tom Brady had just graduated. Michigan has lost nine games in a row in Columbus since the last victory in 2000, and now would be an excellent time to end the streak since a Big Ten championship and a prime spot in the playoff bracket very likely go to the winner. It says something about the historical parity of this rivalry that even with the Buckeyes’ recent dominance at home, they barely lead the Columbus portion of the series 28-27-2.
As has been true so many times across two centuries, the game comes with lots of shiny numbers. Half of the four remaining unbeaten 11-0 records in the country will be on the field Saturday. The only two teams in the nation currently ranked in the top-10 in both scoring offense and defense will be there. This is the 12th time they have met as top-5 members. And there are as many intriguing questions as decals on the helmets.
Will Michigan’s offensive line steamroll the Ohio State defense as it did last November in Ann Arbor?
Corum shares the national lead with 19 touchdowns scored, but will he even play because of a knee injury?
The Buckeyes have been a fireworks show in the air, from quarterback C.J. Stroud and his 35 touchdown passes to receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., with 78 percent of his 65 receptions going for a first down. Any answers for that, Wolverines defense?
Ohio State’s 29-game home winning streak against Big Ten opponents goes back to 2015, so no current Buckeye has ever known the feeling of losing a conference game in Ohio Stadium. This is no time for a new experience, right?
Can Michigan get its customary fast start — the Wolverines have outscored opponents 210-67 in the first half — to take some of the scarlet out of the Ohio State crowd?
Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy has justified Jim Harbaugh’s decision to start him with a 67 percent completion rate and a 14-2 touchdown-interception ratio. But he’s never played a down in Ohio Stadium, so how’s that going to work out?
And most of all, will the loser look good enough to make a case for a second playoff spot for the Big Ten? Bo and Woody never had to worry about that one.
Trivia question of the week: What are the only two FBS programs to have never played an FCS opponent since the divisions were established in 1978? Sure, the Irish and Trojans. (This, the week after Alabama welcomed in Austin Peay). But they’ll probably have other issues on their minds Saturday in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
USC is trying to make the supersonic jet flight from a 4-8 record to the College Football Playoff in 12 months. The 10-1 Trojans need to put away a surging Notre Dame team and then they can start arguing their case of why it should be them in the playoffs instead of the Michigan-Ohio State loser or LSU or Clemson. How they’re only a Utah two-point conversion away from being perfect. How they can claim maybe the most remarkable statistic in college football.
No, not the 33-3 touchdown-interception ratio and 40 touchdowns either passed or run for by quarterback Caleb Williams, though that’s way good enough to push him into the Heisman conversation. But this: USC has forced 25 turnovers this season and committed only four, losing but one fumble. That’s a plus-21 in turnover margin. The next best anywhere is Duke at 14.
Meanwhile, it’s been a long climb back into the sunlight for Notre Dame from home losses to Marshall and Stanford and a 3-3 start. The Irish have won five in a row and can do unto USC what they did unto Clemson — throw a bucket of ice water on playoff hopes. There are other notable prizes on the table for Notre Dame, too. A win would give Marcus Freeman his fourth victory over a top-25 opponent, and no first-year Irish coach has done that since Terry Brennan in 1954. Also, Notre Dame has scored 35 points in five consecutive games for only the second time in 134 years of football, the first being 1943. A sixth in a row would be unprecedented.
It’s very hard to do anything for the first time at Notre Dame.
Not even USC can match Tulane’s U-turn. This last time last season, the Green Wave were limping in at 2-10. They’re 9-2 now and Friday will play Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference regular season title.
The Bearcats are also 9-2 and a testament to the staying power of Luke Fickell’s program since Cincinnati lost nine players to the NFL draft off last year’s 13-1 team. Friday’s winner will host the conference championship game, the loser will drop into a tie-breaker traffic jam to decide who will also play for the title. Tulane has an imposing streak to overcome. Cincinnati has won 32 games in a row at Nippert Stadium.
The Tigers have blasted their way into the possibility of making history as the first two-loss team to get a playoff spot. They beat Alabama, beat Ole Miss. The idea now is to beat Georgia in the SEC title game and hope the committee members are so wowed by such a feat they somehow forget about that 40-13 loss at home to Tennessee. So this is no week to stroll unfocused into College Station, where the 4-7 Aggies have absolutely nothing to lose because they’ve done a lot of that already.
The field goal that looked like a fire drill to save the day at Baylor will live in Horned Frog legend. Just another tight squeeze for a TCU team that has thrived on the brink. But the Frogs still have no margin for error. Getting 4-7 Iowa State at home should not be a problem but screwball things can happen in late November, and the Cyclones have the eighth-rated defense in the nation. Argentina wasn’t supposed to lose to Saudi Arabia at the World Cup, either.
The operative number is 286-104. That’s the combined margin the Tigers have slapped on the Gamecocks in winning the past seven of these rivalry games. Clemson will need an eighth in row to keep its flickering playoff hopes breathing and then help in other places. If the defensive staff looks a tad shaken, they probably just came out of a film study session and watched South Carolina put 63 points on Tennessee last week. The Gamecocks’ basketball team hasn’t scored that many in four of its first five games.
University authorities have tried to stop calling this the Civil War, but good luck on that one with the fans. Whatever you want to call it, the game’s better when something is on the line. Like this year. Win, and Oregon is in the Pac-12 title game for the fourth consecutive year. Nobody has ever done that before. It’s another episode of the Bo Nix Show, the Ducks’ quarterback having produced 40 touchdowns, 14 by rushing. He gets plenty of time for magic. Oregon has allowed only three sacks all season. Oregon State would like to rain on all of the above and has won five of six to show it’s capable. Actually, the Beavers’ only home loss should be most worrisome to Oregon. They played USC close 17-14, holding the Trojans’ mighty offense 26 points under their average.
Somebody has to be the massive underdog in the Big Ten Championship Game opposite the Michigan-Ohio State winner. Might as well be the Hawkeyes, who will clinch the spot with a victory. Iowa and Purdue are tied for the division lead in the West, but the Big Ten might want to revisit its scheduling process. The 7-4 Hawkeyes had to play both Ohio State and Michigan — losing 54-10 and 27-14 — and the Boilermakers had to play neither.
But Iowa has survived that decidedly unbalanced schedule and won the game that counted most — 24-3 over Purdue in West Lafayette. Still, the Hawkeyes' title game spot could go to the Boilers with a loss to Nebraska Friday, and it likely won’t be an easy day. The 3-8 Cornhuskers don’t win many games but play most of them close. The 15-14 loss last week to Wisconsin was their 12th defeat by seven points or under in their past 18 games. Nebraska has lost seven in a row to Iowa, but the past four have been by a combined 19 points.
Iowa’s defense has been pierced by only two opponents. The Hawkeyes gave up 81 points to Ohio State and Michigan, 68 in its other nine games. Want an idea of how quiet Big Ten scoreboards have often been this season? Iowa is fifth in the nation in scoring defense — but fourth in its own league behind Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.
One day, if James Madison is 5-2 in Sun Belt play and Coastal Carolina is 6-1 like they are now, this would be for a division title and a spot in the conference title game. But since James Madison is ineligible for the postseason during its transition to FBS, this is the Dukes’ title game and bowl all wrapped into one final Saturday. It would be a spectacular conclusion to a terrific first lap in the FBS. James Madison has six wins over FBS opponents this season — the same number it had in the previous 50 seasons combined.
If Iowa wins the day before, this Saturday rivalry renewal will mostly just be for an Old Oaken Bucket and the joy of making the other team miserable. But if the Hawkeyes lose, it means a lot more than that to Purdue. A win would send the Boilermakers to the Big Ten title game. That’s always played only an hour down Interstate 65 in Indianapolis, but Purdue has never made it there. If the Boilermakers end up in Lucas Oil Stadium, they won’t care what the point spread is against Ohio State or Michigan.