No. 1 Ohio State goes into its rivalry game against No. 13 Michigan having already clinched the Big Ten East Division title and a berth in the conference championship game the following week, but that doesn't mean Saturday's annual border battle in Ann Arbor, Mich., lacks significance.
The Buckeyes are out to not only continue their recent dominance in the series but remain in prime position to win a national title. Michigan hasn't won this matchup since 2011 and Jim Harbaugh’s 0-4 record against Ohio State has been well documented.
And Harbaugh will be in tough if wants to end that dubious streak as the Buckeyes are arguably the most talented team in the nation from top to bottom and oddsmakers have made the Wolverines as 8.5-point home underdogs. From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, we break down the best ways to wager The Game.
This year’s edition of The Game features two of the best defenses in the country. Michigan ranks fifth nationally in yards per game at 268.2 per contest, but will be the second best defense in this game. Ohio State, led by potential Heisman finalist Chase Young, is first in total defense and points allowed, giving up 10.5 per contest this season.
Both the Wolverines and Buckeyes love to set the tone early with their hard-hitting defenses. These Big Ten rivals give up just 6.1 points first quarter points per game. Mix in some chilly and windy weather in Ann Arbor and it could take the offenses a few drives to settle in. Even last year's shootout only saw 10 points in the opening frame. We expect more of the same here.
Pick: Under First Quarter Total
FIRST HALF BET
While it may take a little while for Ohio State to heat up, no team has more firepower than the Buckeyes. They rank first in the nation in scoring at 49.4 points per contest and the second quarter is where they do their best work. Ohio State puts up 19.1 second quarter points per game. That’s nearly three points better than the next closest team in that category (LSU).
Quarterback Justin Fields is the driving force behind this second-quarter surge. He averages 10.0 yards per completion and 16 of his total 33 passing touchdowns have occurred in that 15-minute frame, boasting an insane 201.8 QB rating in the second quarter alone.
The Michigan pass defense is one of the toughest Ohio State has faced, but thankfully Fields also has J.K. Dobbins carrying the load on the ground. With Dobbins rushing for 1,446 yards and 17 total touchdowns the Buckeyes create problems for opponents with their excellent balance. Take the Buckeyes to head into half with a moderate lead.
Pick: Ohio State -4.5 First Half Spread
Speaking of Dobbins, he is just 59 yards away from passing Ezekiel Elliott for second on Ohio State's career rushing list and more importantly he has stepped up in the Buckeye’s biggest games this season. Last week against Penn State he rushed for 157 yards on 36 attempts and two touchdowns. Against Wisconsin he racked up 163 yards on 20 carries with two more majors. And against rival Michigan State he amassed 172 yards on 24 carries and a score.
All three of those teams rank in the top 11 when it comes to rushing yards allowed per game. Michigan ranks 13th in that category, but have struggled against some of the conference’s top backs. Take Dobbins to go Over his rushing total for this one.
Pick: J.K. Dobbins Over Rushing Yards
FULL GAME TOTAL
The Game has lived up to the hype the last several years, despite the one-sided results. The Over has hit in the last six meetings seeing an average of 69.4 combined points per game, with Ohio State doing 41.5 points of the damage. But oddsmakers just can’t make these totals any higher when considering how good the defenses are.
This time around, quarterback Shea Patterson and the passing game will be key for Michigan. He ranks third in the Big Ten with 229.4 passing yards per game and has skilled receivers at his disposal and has led the Wolverines to four straight wins where they have averaged 41.5 points per game.
Now, we don’t expect Michigan’s offense to be nearly as good against Ohio State’s defense, but Patterson can extend plays a little with his legs, and should be able put up just enough points to get this one to go Over.
Pick: Over 50
FULL GAME SIDE
A lot of things are going to have to go right for Michigan to win The Game for the first time since 2011.
While Michigan has won four in a row in impressive fashion and covered five in a row, the competition over the Wolverines win streak has not been the strongest, with Notre Dame being the only decent opponent. And in the Wolverines two losses to Penn State and Wisconsin they had trouble containing the run, and keeping Patterson upright. In fact, Patterson gets sacked 1.8 times per game and that resulted in trouble with his accuracy as he dealt with a ton of pressure in those games.
Now, they have to deal with Young, who is one of the true difference makers in college football. He leads the country in sacks, returned after missing two games because of a suspension to wreak havoc against Penn State with three sacks, four tackles for loss, nine total tackles and a forced fumble.
Ohio State just has too much talent on both sides of the ball for Michigan and getting the Buckeyes at any number under 10 seems like a steal. Lay the points.
Pick: Ohio State -9