It has been dubbed “The Game of our Generation,” the “Ali vs. Frasier” of college football, and has even been raised to biblical proportions with a prolific heading of “Judgment Day.” However, no matter what elaborate title is given to Saturday’s epic clash between the Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Michigan Wolverines, one thing is for certain: this contest will live up to all the hype. Arguably the most intense rivalry in all of professional sports, these bitter foes have battled it out for over a century. So why is this particular matchup so exceptional? For the first time in the history of the storied rivalry, Ohio State and Michigan will meet ranked no. 1 and no. 2 in the country. The winner of the contest will be guaranteed a berth in the national title game, while the loser will most likely find itself on the outside looking in. With so much at stake, Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. showdown isn’t just any regular season matchup; it’s essentially a national title game two months early.
p. Led by junior linebackers David Harris and Shawn Crable, Michigan boasts the top-ranked rush defense in the nation. Only allowing a miniscule 30 rushing yards per game, the Michigan front seven completely neutralize the ground attack of the opposing offense. Once their opponents’ offense has become one-dimensional, it’s all over, as the freakishly talented defensive end Lamar Woodley gets after the quarterback. Such pressure forces opposing quarterbacks into ill-advised decisions, which lead to turnovers. If Woodley can beat the Buckeye offensive linemen’s numerous double team schemes, quarterback Troy Smith could be in for a long day. However, if there’s one quarterback in college football who can evade Michigan’s defensive pressure, it’s the versatile Troy Smith.
p. Although it’s unlikely that Smith will receive much support from his talented tandem of tailbacks, Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells, Smith has the tools to win this contest on his own. Boasting an astonishing quarterback rating of 168.7, Smith has matured into probably the finest quarterback in all of college football. With an incredible 26 touchdown tosses, he has nearly doubled his touchdown total from last season. Much of his success can be credited to explosive receiver Teddy Ginn (51 rec. 677 yards, 8 TD) and the sure-handed Anthony Gonzalez (45 rec. 673 yards, 7 TD).
p. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State fields a defense that can give any opposing offense fits. Although the Bucks don’t stop the run as well as the Wolverines, the Ohio State defense only allows around seven points per game, an average that tops the nation. The Bucks’ defense is also opportunistic, forcing 27 turnovers on the year. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne must keep an eye on ball-hawk linebacker James Laurinaitis (5 INT) if he wants to avoid a costly second half turnover.
p. In order to have a chance against the opportunistic Bucks defense, it is essential that Michigan protect the football. Luckily for the Wolverines, they have the perfect man for the job, running back Mike Hart. Hart, who has rushed for 1,373 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, takes care of the ball better than any tailback in college football, as he has fumbled the rock only once the entire season. Look for the Wolverines to establish a solid running game with the fleet-footed and powerful Hart. If the Wolverines can pound the ball effectively with Hart, less pressure will be placed on the shoulders of quarterback Chad Henne. While Henne, no doubt, is a solid quarterback, he is somewhat unproven in big games, and is not on the same level as the playmaking Smith.
p. When you compare these two teams on paper, it is extremely difficult to pick a clear favorite. However, here are five reasons Ohio State will defeat Michigan:
p. 1. Troy Smith. Michigan has not faced a mobile quarterback of Smith’s Caliber all year, and will have no answer for his playmaking ability outside of the pocket. Smith also has a track record of picking apart Michigan defenses. 2. Mario Manningham is not 100 percent healthy. Although Manningham (9 TD rec.) is easily Michigan’s most dangerous playmaker on offense, he is not fully recovered from his injury. Hence, he will have a difficult time getting open against the Buckeyes’ top cornerback, Leon Hall. 3. The Horseshoe will be rocking. 4. Ted Ginn. As we all know, Ginn has a knack for the big play. Ginn will not disappoint, as he will return a punt for a touchdown. 5. Ohio State’s Jim Tressel will out coach Michigan’s Lloyd Carr. He holds a 4-1 all-time record against the Wolverines.
p. Final Score: OSU 27, Mich 20
p. Graham Williamson is a sports columnist for The Flat Hat. He will be leaving the Tribe-Richmond game early to watch a far superior rivalry game.