MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-6)
at OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (10-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, Noon ET
Line: Ohio State -20.5, Total: 51.5
No. 6 Ohio State has already clinched a berth in the Big Ten title, but a win against rival Michigan would put the team closer to making the college football playoffs.
Things have not been easy for Michigan (4-7 ATS) this year, as the Wolverines are playing for the right to be bowl eligible in this game. They were leading last week against Maryland, but allowed the Terrapins to come back and get the 23-16 victory. Embattled head coach Brady Hoke has done a nice job of getting his team ready to play after a loss, as the Wolverines are 10-2 ATS following a defeat in his tenure. Any hope of reaching the inaugural playoffs appeared to be over for the Buckeyes early, as Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2. However, things have changed since then, and the team has not experienced another loss, going 9-0 SU (6-3 ATS). Ohio State has been great coming off a home game in the past two seasons, going 9-2 ATS in this scenario while outscoring opponents 48 to 22 on average. These two teams played a classic game last year in Ann Arbor, with the 17-point favorite Buckeyes getting a stop on a two-point conversion in the final minutes to secure the 42-41 victory. In that game, Michigan QB Devin Gardner had his best collegiate game, throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Both teams are in great shape on the injury front as Wolverines DB Delano Hill (suspension served) and Buckeyes DB Armani Reeves (head) and RB Bri'onte Dunn (leg) have all been upgraded to probable.
Can Ohio State cover the massive spread in Saturday's rivalry? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2014 regular season and bowl season. StatFox Gary is heating up with a 6-1 ATS mark in College Football Best Bets over the past two weeks.
The biggest reason for the Wolverines struggles this season has been because of inconsistent play on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan ranks 63rd in the nation in rushing (166.6 YPG), 115th in scoring (20.3 PPG) and 116th in passing (162.8 YPG). QB Devin Gardner (1,663 pass yards, 8 TD, 14 INT) has had a lot of problems this year, but he has shown the ability to play through injuries his entire career. In the game last year against Ohio State, he could barely walk, but continued to compete. Against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines are going to have to get a big performance from sophomore RB De’Veon Smith (105 carries, 515 yards, 6 TD). Smith, an Ohio native, is a strong and physical running back who will be asked to help the Wolverines control the clock. At wide receiver, the 6-foot-5 Devin Funchess (55 catches, 625 yards, 4 TD) is a big target, but he has only one touchdown since a season-opening victory against Appalachian State. While the offense has had its struggles, the defense of the Wolverines has been much better this year, ranking 21st in FBS points allowed (21.6 PPG). Leading the way for the Michigan defense is LB Jake Ryan (104 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 sacks). Ryan does a nice job of running all over the field, and causes a lot of havoc in the opponent’s backfield. Senior DE Brennen Beyer (34 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) is the Wolverines player that puts the most pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but that will be a very difficult challenge against ultra-talented J.T. Barrett on Saturday.
The offense of the Buckeyes has been as good as any since the loss to Virginia Tech, ranking 5th in scoring (44.3 PPG), 14th in rushing (259.6 YPG) and 49th in passing (251.7 YPG). Freshman QB J.T. Barrett (2,658 passing yards, 849 rushing yards, 42 total TD) has been tremendous as of late, bouncing back from the loss against the Hokies by scoring at least 3 touchdowns in eight of the team's nine straight wins. Head coach Urban Meyer’s offense demands the quarterback be able to make plays with his legs, and Barrett can do just that. RB Ezekiel Elliot (180 carries, 1,061 yards, 8 TD) is a load for opponents to tackle. At 225 pounds, Elliot is a powerful running back who can also run away from the defense. His ability to run has helped make Barrett so difficult to stop on the zone read. There are a lot of receivers who can make plays for Ohio State, as WR Devin Smith (25 catches, 610 yards, 8 TD), Michael Thomas (37 catches, 605 yards, 8 TD) and Jalin Marshall (24 catches, 347 yards, 6 TD) all have game-breaking speed. Marshall has had some problems with fumbles, but he is a special player who showed what he can do against Indiana last week with five catches for 95 yards and 3 TD. Smith is the true home-run threat on the team, as he has five receptions of at least 42 yards. While the offense gets the majority of the talk, the defense is also very good, allowing just 22.5 PPG (30th in FBS). The unit is led by DL Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks, 43 tackles, 18 TFL), who at times, is impossible for opponents to block. He is relentless with his pressure on the quarterback, and allows teammates easier opportunities because he is constantly getting double-teamed. LB Joshua Perry (99 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks) is the leading tackler on the team, but he can also make plays in pass coverage as well. The Buckeyes do a great job of intercepting the ball, as DB Vonn Bell, S Tyvis Powell and CB Doran Grant each have three interceptions on the season.