I watched The Final Drive on Big Ten Network after last Saturday's slate of games had ended, the last one I watched being Indiana's stunning 24-21 overtime win over Michigan State in Bloomington. The lead story of the day was as it should have been for the Big Ten, the 4th ranked team in the nation, Michigan hosting 8th ranked Wisconsin.
Now to be fair, there aren't a whole lot of highlights you can show from a 14-7 game. A grand total of three touchdowns were scored for four quarters of football, which is part of the reason why I saw someone on Facebook call it "two laughably pathetic teams exposing themselves." Right. In a Top 10 matchup. God forbid anyone play great defense anymore. If it's not a spread offense shootout that's at least into the 30's in terms of points scored, people think it's bad football. Whatever, I digress.
At the end of The Final Drive the question posed was simple: Who has the better defense in the Big Ten? Michigan, or Ohio State? I don't know how they conduct their quick poll on the Internet but the "audience" voted Michigan barely at 51 percent to 49 percent for the Buckeyes, despite the fact that both analysts on the show, Howard Griffith and Stanley Jackson gave the edge to Ohio State. In Jackson's defense, he did say "slight" edge.
The thing is, there is a benefit of the doubt that the Buckeyes have been getting all season that almost no one is willing to give Michigan for the same things and that is......disappointing. It's not surprising, it's not even frustrating at this point, it's just disappointing.
Both teams are in the Top 5 right now, Ohio State sitting just behind Alabama at #2 and Michigan sitting at #4. Since Week 3, Michigan has seen two ACC teams, Louisville and Clemson, jump them for that #3 spot, while Ohio State holds a tight grip on #2, waiting for a hopeful Alabama loss to shake things up even more.
This is all AP and Coaches Poll though, which really only means anything for conversation and that's it. When the first CFB rankings come out in a matter of weeks, that will be what counts as far as any rankings or seedings go, but for now it's interesting to see where people are seeing these teams at in relation to others and the perception out there right now is that Ohio State is the class of college football, in a stratosphere that no one else even comes close to with the exception of Alabama, who I'm sure is still reminded of that CFB loss to Urban Meyer's Buckeyes two years ago.
I mean, it's not like the Buckeyes don't deserve praise. They average 57 points a game, they've given up the least amount of yards and points per game in the country, and they have been flat out dominant this season against each of their first four opponents. When you beat teams by an average margin of 47.7 points, you deserve to be applauded for that, no question.
So does Michigan, who averages 44.4 points a game and gives up a mere field goal more on average than Ohio State does, with a 32-point average margin of victory over their first five opponents this season. When I hear about Michigan though, whether it's from Kirk Herbstreit or Robert Smith or Joey Galloway(a pattern emerges?), or any number of other ESPN or Big Ten analysts, I hear about how they haven't played anyone and how we won't know how good they really are until they play Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State at the end of the year.
For what it's worth, the combined record of those three teams at this point in the season is 9-4, with the Buckeyes being the only one undefeated. Both the Spartans and Hawkeyes have two losses, Iowa's both being at home and both of MSU's coming in conference. Meanwhile, the combined record of Ohio State's opponents this season is 8-10, including a 2-2 Oklahoma team still ranked 20th in the AP Poll and 22nd in the Coaches Poll. The OSU opponent with the best record right now is Tulsa at 3-1, who rebounded from their 48-3 humiliation in Columbus to beat North Carolina A&T by 37 points and then beat Fresno State in double overtime two weeks ago.
The combined record of Michigan's opponents right now? 16-9, which includes two currently ranked teams that are both 4-1 in Colorado and Wisconsin. Colorado was unranked at the time Michigan beat them by 17 in Ann Arbor in Week 3, and given that the Wolverines came back from a 21-7 first quarter deficit to win that game going away, many in the nation questioned how good Michigan was after that, especially since Buffaloes starting QB Sefo Liufau got hurt in the third quarter, leaving many to question how different the game would have been had he been healthy. A week later their backup QB Steven Montez threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns at Oregon in a 41-38 win over the Ducks that raised some eyebrows in the Pac 12. This past weekend he threw for 293 yards and 3 scores against Oregon State in a 47-6 rout.
Wisconsin of course, beat LSU and Michigan State and had one questionable comeback win against Georgia State at home before they were shut down in Ann Arbor. They'll have a bye week before hosting the Buckeyes in Madison, arguably Ohio State's toughest game of the season at this point, but you wouldn't know it listening to the praise for them. Which schedule sounds tougher: Bowling Green, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rutgers? Or Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin? Ok, neither is exactly a gauntlet but where the nation has a ton of questions about Michigan's strength of schedule, they have zero for Ohio State's at all and it's just as weak, if not weaker than Michigan's this season to this point. Even if you count this week's upcoming matchup between the Buckeyes and an Indiana team that just won the Brass Spittoon for the first time ever against Mark Dantonio, that's still not a great resume builder for OSU.
Of course, the Buckeyes don't need resume builders. The benefit of the doubt is there. Every major projection at this point has them in the CFB playoff, ready to tangle with the likes of Alabama and Clemson for the national championship, no matter how weak their opponents have been to this point.
Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, Michigan goes about its business, playing an efficient and sometimes prolific offensive attack and an absolutely stifling defensive unit, both of which have been tested just a bit more than the Buckeyes have at this point one could say. In the case of Clemson and Louisville at least they both at one point beat teams ahead of Michigan to jump in front of them. What's OSU's excuse? Who have they beaten that was better than Michigan? Oklahoma? Not right now.
So why is Ohio State getting this benefit of the doubt for their success that Michigan isn't getting? A few reasons:
1 - OHIO STATE HAS WON A CFB NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. It was two years ago and the only major starter left from that team is QB JT Barrett, who didn't play in the conference title game or the playoff because he got injured against Michigan, but people love to use the past when it suits their argument. They'll also tout last year, saying that OSU was one bad loss in the rain against Michigan State away from reaching the playoff again, as if that loss in November shouldn't have counted, even though it did. It's retroactive benefit of the doubt.
2 - URBAN MEYER. If Nick Saban is regarded as the best coach in college football because of his five national championships, four in the last seven years with Alabama, then Urban Meyer is considered the next closest with his two national championships at Florida and his one in Columbus two years ago, which included a playoff win against Alabama en route to winning it. This is the one point that is hard to argue because he's been there and done it multiple times.
3 - 42-13. That was the score of the Ohio State-Michigan game last year. A complete and utter blowout from an angry Buckeye team fresh off of their CFB and Big Ten Championship game eliminating loss at home to the Spartans, against a rebuilding Michigan team that was injured and not as deep defensively as they are this season. No excuses permitted, the team would tell you that first. They got beat last year and it wasn't pretty. It's part of the reason why Don Brown was hired as the new defensive coordinator this season when DJ Durkin left for Maryland. It's the most recent set of highlights anyone has for a Michigan-Ohio State game and it's what the nation sees, fair or not when this comparison is made now between the two schools. Add to that the painful statistic of the Buckeyes winning 11 of the last 12 games in what used to be a really competitive rivalry, and you see where that benefit of the doubt really comes from in this argument.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter until November 28th who is really better between Michigan and Ohio State because all the guesswork in the world won't mean anything until it is proven on the field by either team. The thing is, we love to argue up until that point and so far the argument has been "Ohio State is so much better," when the numbers and the strength of schedule really don't support that at all. As much as we might all want to assume that Urban Meyer's spread offense led by a very talented upperclassman QB with a ton of "reloaded" younger players would simply steamroll over a team like Michigan, we won't know until the game hits at the end of the season, much like we won't know if Michigan's defense led by a senior-laden defensive front and secondary will crack the Ohio State offensive attack like an egg or not. The best we can say right now is that both teams are playing very well and there's a lot of season left to figure out who is going to win the Big Ten this season.
Now if only the national media could start saying that. Especially those Buckeye alums all over the four-letter network. Oh well......