It's been more than six months since Ohio State beat Michigan, but I wanted to write about it today because A) it's the day after Memorial Day, and I want to talk actual football and B) I've thought about this game almost every day since it happened.
And the reason I've thought about this game so much is because I don't think we appreciate, then and now the wild swings between outcomes over those three hours in late November -- and how much that game will shape college football discourse moving forward.
I know how impossibly oxymoronic the above statement is: that an Ohio State-Michigan game, breathlessly hyped by ESPN at the time, that was decided by three points in double overtime was somehow underhyped. But consider the following:
1) With the possible exception of Ohio State-Oklahoma, this was the only game of the regular season that directly elevated the winner into the College Football Playoff and kicked the loser out.
2) Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight essentially handed Ohio State 21 points in the form of two interceptions -- one that Malik Hooker returned for a 16-yard touchdown and another Jerome Baker returned to the Michigan 13 -- and a lost fumble at the Ohio State 2.
2a) This isn't to say Ohio State didn't make its own share of mistakes. Tyler Durbin missed two chip shot field goals and the Buckeyes answered Speight's fumble with a failed fake punt that Michigan turned into its own short-field touchdown drive.
3) After moving 72 yards before a missed field goal concluded Ohio State's first drive, Michigan did not allow a sustained drive until the 10:28 mark of the fourth quarter. Over a span of 42 minutes and 43 seconds Ohio State mustered three 3-and-outs, six punts, an interception, the aforementioned failed fake punt and a 13-yard drive set up by Speight's second pick. But while its defense essentially pitched a shutout, Michigan's offense mustered only 17 points. The game was there for Michigan to put away, but they could not do it.
4) When winning time arrived, Ohio State knew what to do and Michigan did not. The Buckeyes averaged 3.3 yards per play (178 yards on 54 snaps, excluding an end-of-half kneel down) before the fourth quarter and leaped to 6.3 a play (188 yards on 30 snaps) in the fourth quarter and overtime. Michigan did not force a punt.
5) The spot was good.
So, yeah. It was a good game. But you knew that already. I don't think we appreciate how much the echo of Ohio State's 30-27 defeat of Michigan will reverberate through the seasons that follow, though.
To properly understand what happened in the past, I'm going to assume what will happen in the future.
As of today, Ohio State is an 8-point favorite to beat Michigan on Nov. 25. When accounting for the traditional 3-point edge the Wolverines gain by playing at home, we can gather Las Vegas thinks Ohio State is 11 points better than Michigan on a neutral field.
There is a good reason for that.
Michigan started 18 seniors against Ohio State (plus early-entrant Jabrill Peppers). Ohio State dressed 21 -- total. The 2017 season has all the makings of a rebuild-and-reload season for Michigan. The future is still unwritten and anything can happen on any given Saturday, but if you're picking the Big Ten East in late May, you would pick Michigan to finish third (the Wolverines are also 14-point underdogs to Penn State).
Which would be fine... had the Wolverines closed the deal with Ohio State last season.
Michigan would have (most likely) beaten Wisconsin in the following week's Big Ten Championship and advanced to face Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe they blow past the Tigers and beat Alabama for the national title. Maybe they lose to Clemson worse than Ohio State did. Neither outcome is really the point, because, at this stage in Jim Harbaugh's tenure in Ann Arbor, simply beating Ohio State, winning a Big Ten title and advancing to the College Football Playoff would have been a victory in and of itself. It would have been tangible proof that Harbaugh's madness has a method to it, that all the noise he's produced culminates into a melody.
Harbaugh would have put any pointed Brady Hoke comparisons to bed for good. (As it stands, Harbaugh is 20-6 through two seasons, 0-2 against Ohio State with one top-10 finish and a New Year's Six bowl loss. Hoke was 19-7 with a win over [a significantly down] Ohio State, a top-10 finish and a New Year's Six bowl win.)
But Michigan didn't beat Ohio State, and cue the narrative.
Harbaugh doesn't care about any of this, and neither do his fans. But someday they probably will. The longer Harbaugh goes until winning his first Big Ten title and/or reaching his first CFP, the louder the chorus will become and the more Michigan supporters will have to pretend they don't hear the taunts of the scores of people who would like to see Jim Harbaugh fail simply because he's Jim Harbaugh.
All of those tweets are retroactively deleted and those taunts silenced before they were spoken if Michigan holds on last November. Now they'll be even louder in 2017... and beyond.
The Michigan-Ohio State game was the most important game of the 2016 regular season and, aside from Clemson cashing in against Alabama, it's the only '16 game that will shape the years to come.