COLUMBUS — The old football adage says that records have no bearing in a rivalry game and that anything is liable to happen at any time.
In the Ohio State-Michigan series, however, a notable part of the end-of-season game has gone missing: upsets.
The past decade-plus has not exactly been a renewal of the Ten Year War. The favored team has won the past dozen games in the series dating back to 2005, an unusual stretch for a rivalry that has seen plenty of upsets in its history.
Current Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer remembered being part of a major one as a graduate assistant in 1987, when Ohio State beat Michigan in Earle Bruce’s final game. OSU fired Bruce during the week, which Meyer said led to a “circus,” yet the Buckeyes prevailed as a touchdown underdog in Ann Arbor.
“They were a very good team, and we were struggling,” Meyer said Monday. “We found a way to win that game, and it was very emotional to see them win that game.”
Ironically, the run of good fortune for favorites came immediately after one of the more unpredictable stretches in rivalry history. Between 1995 and 2004, underdogs won half of the 10 games in the series, a period which saw one side spoiling something for the other on a regular basis.
Michigan stunned undefeated Ohio State in 1995, a loss that cost the second-ranked Buckeyes everything. Ohio State, a nine-point favorite, lost out on a share of the Big Ten championship, a trip to the Rose Bowl, and any hopes of winning the national championship.
1996 remains the biggest upset of the past 25 years of the series. Ohio State, once again 11-0 before Michigan week, lost at home as a 17-point favorite on the final day of the regular season.
Another Michigan win as the underdog in 2000 proved to be the end of the line for Buckeyes coach John Cooper, though his replacement, Jim Tressel, returned the favor in 2001. Ohio State won at Michigan Stadium as an 8.5-point underdog — its first win in Ann Arbor since that 1987 game — and cost the rival Wolverines a Big Ten championship.
The past 12 years have missed anything similar.
Since 2004, when Ohio State prevented Michigan from an undefeated Big Ten record, no underdog has won The Game.
The two sides went to double overtime in 2016, and the Wolverines came a 2-point conversion away from pulling a major upset in 2013, but the favored Buckeyes prevailed both times.
The Buckeyes begin this week as the clear Las Vegas favorite for Saturday’s game at Michigan Stadium. Ohio State was an 11.5-point favorite against Michigan on Monday as questions swirled about which Wolverines quarterback will play.
Starter Wilton Speight suffered a back injury Sept. 23 at Purdue and has not played since, but has been cleared to throw, while Brandon Peters was knocked out of UM’s most recent game with a head injury. John O’Korn, who also has started this season, finished the game.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said O’Korn was “sitting on a spring” in anticipation of playing this week.
Ohio State has dominated the most recent chapter of the rivalry, winning the past five games and 14 of the past 16. The Buckeyes have won the past 11 meetings when favored, while the Wolverines’ last victory against OSU — against the Luke Fickell-led outfit in 2011 — is the only time they have been favored to beat Ohio State in the past 12 years.
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