Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Shifting Power and Expectation from Ohio State

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVNovember 27, 2022

Cornelius Johnson
Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

For much of the last two decades, Ohio State has overwhelmed Michigan in The Game. Whenever the schools met—no matter the records, spread or other context—the expectation steadily became an Ohio State win.

Blowout, possibly. Close, maybe. One way or another, though, the Buckeyes would be celebrating as the clock expired. After all, they've ripped off a pair of winning streaks of at least seven games in this bitter—but very lopsided—series over the last 20 years.

The most balanced rivalries tend to run in cycles, however.

And the power is shifting back in Michigan's favor.

Perception can change quickly, but it's definitely not an overnight thing. One victory—as Michigan earned in 2011, sandwiched between those long skids—snaps a streak, not a trend.

Just two years ago, for example, the showdown was canceled because of health and safety protocols related to COVID-19. Unfair as the reaction was, there was a festering anger that Michigan wanted nothing to do with the matchup amid a generally awful year for the program. The Wolverines were 2-4 that season and had dropped eight straight games to OSU, including all five in Jim Harbaugh's then-disappointing tenure.

Fast-forward 12 months, and Michigan was in a significantly more competitive state. Still, while the 2021 Wolverines had a great offensive line and standout defense, they hadn't beaten OSU in ages. They hadn't played a quarterback of C.J. Stroud's caliber. They hadn't consistently excelled on offense, especially in red-zone opportunities.

Sorta sounding like déjà vu, huh?

That result last November—a 42-27 triumph by Michigan—basically repeated itself Saturday in the Wolverines' 45-23 demolition of their rivals.

Michigan has that tremendous O-line again. The defense has replaced a few critical pieces extremely well. But the passing game has regularly bogged down the offense, particularly in red-zone chances.

Michigan's strength of schedule was considerably low. The best playmakers, running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, were questionable all week because of injuries. Plus, the Buckeyes had the home-field advantage in Columbus, where the Wolverines hadn't won since 2000.

On paper, Michigan had every reason to lose.

But this, quite clearly, is no longer the same program or coaching staff that couldn't find answers for Ohio State and was mesh'd to death in 2018. Instead, that conversation has been suddenly flipped on its head.

Ohio State reacted to last season's loss by breaking open the checkbook for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who oversaw a stellar Oklahoma State defense in 2021. That decision has been simply magnificent all year, evidenced by Ohio State's climb to a top-10 ranking.

But on Saturday, it simply didn't matter.

Michigan hasn't really showcased an explosive scoring attack. While it entered Saturday ninth in the nation in scoring at 39.4 points per game, its offensive outbursts have come against the likes of Colorado State, UConn and Hawai'i.

Steady and efficient, absolutely, but a unit tied for 71st in the country in gains of 30-plus yards with 21 (1.9 per game) is objectively not a big-play group.

So, naturally, the Wolverines rattled off an incredible day with Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum on the sideline for most of the day. They scored five touchdowns of 45-plus yards, matching their season total of such scores.

The season!

Bleacher Report CFB @BR_CFB

Michigan offense DESTROYED Ohio State:<br><br>J.J. McCarthy: 290 total YDs, 4 total TDs<br><br>Donovan Edwards: 22 rush, 216 YDs, 2 TDs<br><br>Cornelius Johnson: 4 rec, 160 YDs, 2 TDs<br><br>😳 <a href="https://t.co/hYykbIKfO0">pic.twitter.com/hYykbIKfO0</a>

One victory, again, may be an aberration. College football is occasionally strange, and talent doesn't always win. Rivalries can throw another twist into those bizarre results.

Two blowouts, however, send a message. The notice is clear: We, not you, are the team to beat.

Michigan won't be here forever. The pendulum will swing back in Ohio State's favor eventually. Heck, we're not promising the Wolverines to win in 2023 or to dominate the series like Ohio State did for the last 20 years.

However, when the teams line up in Ann Arbor next November, the Buckeyes will have more questions to answer. Even if Michigan has a lesser record, Ohio State will be the program with the most to prove. That's the nature of two consecutive emphatic results in a rivalry.

But right now, the future is merely a hypothetical.

Welcome to your new reality, Ohio State. Michigan has become the class of the Big Ten.