Despite some sluggish moments in the weeks leading up to their biggest game this season, the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes sent an emphatic message to the College Football Playoff selection committee with a 62-39 win over the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
It's rare for a team that entered play with a 10-1 record to be disappointing, but the Buckeyes have looked out of sorts since their 49-20 loss to Purdue on Oct. 20. They held on to defeat Nebraska on Nov. 3 and needed a failed two-point conversion from Maryland to win in overtime last week.
Yet the one thing that hasn't changed is the Buckeyes' dominance over their biggest rival. Their seven-game winning streak, which dates back to 2012, is their longest in the history of The Game. This victory gave Urban Meyer's team its second straight trip to the Big Ten title contest.
Dwayne Haskins picked apart Michigan's defense with 318 passing yards and five touchdowns. Senior receiver Parris Campbell had his best outing since Oct. 6 with 114 yards and one score on five receptions.
Buckeyes Will Crash Playoff Party
For all the hand-wringing over the Buckeyes before The Game, the door has swung wide open for them to climb into the Top Four when the final College Football Playoff rankings are released Dec. 2.
Ohio State cleared its first hurdle before it even took the field against Michigan. Washington State's loss to Washington will knock the Cougars down from the No. 8 spot.
No. 9 Central Florida is undefeated heading into the AAC title game against Memphis, but star quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a leg injury in Friday's 38-10 win over South Florida that required surgery. It's also unclear if the selection committee would put a non-Power Five team in the Top Four.
The two biggest obstacles still in Ohio State's way for a CFP spot are Georgia and Oklahoma. The 11-1 Bulldogs have to defeat top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1 to avoid a second loss. The same day, the Sooners will try to avenge their loss against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game.
No. 7 LSU is also above Ohio State, but two losses and the lack of a conference title-game appearance could hurt the Tigers. Even though Northwestern isn't the definition of traditional powerhouse, at least the Buckeyes will have the eyes of the selection committee on them next weekend when they play the Wildcats in the Big 10 title contest.
There's also a precedent from the selection committee to give Ohio State the benefit of the doubt in close cases, per Sporting News' Bill Bender:
"In 2014, Ohio State started at No. 16 and made the jump up to the No. 5 spot before championship weekend. The Buckeyes slid into the No. 4 spot after a 59-0 victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 despite beating Iowa State 55-3.
"In 2016, Ohio State (11-1) didn't play in the Big Ten championship and lost head-to-head to Big Ten champion Penn State (11-2), but the Buckeyes got the benefit of the doubt from the Playoff committee."
Any discussion about the Buckeyes' loss to Purdue is valid, but assuming chalk prevails next week, their win over Michigan is better than any victory Oklahoma has had this season.
Everything is set up perfectly for Ohio State to make its third trip to the College Football Playoff thanks to Saturday's dominant win over Michigan.
Harbaugh's Road Woes Prove He's Not Among Nation's Elite Coaches
Jim Harbaugh earned his first road win against a Top 25 opponent as Michigan head coach on Oct. 20 against Michigan State.
The Spartans were ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll at the time, but they entered Saturday at 6-5 overall.
So what did that game matter for Harbaugh's legacy at Michigan among Saturday's debacle and a season-opening 24-17 loss to Notre Dame before Ian Book took over at quarterback?
Now, with Harbaugh's 1-4 road record against ranked opponents, it's time to wonder if he should still be considered among the nation's best coaches. The only coaches with a higher average annual salary than Harbaugh's $7.5 million are Alabama's Nick Saban ($8.3 million) and Urban Meyer ($7.6 million), per USA Today.
There are areas in which he excels. Michigan had back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes in 2016 and 2017, per 247Sports. The program has been more relevant under his watch, as it's reached the Top 10 in the AP poll at least once in each of the past three seasons.
The Big Ten isn't as deep in 2018 as it has been in recent years with Michigan State and Wisconsin a combined 13-9 entering Saturday.
Michigan is 10-2 in a down year for the Big Ten, with both losses coming against the two best teams on its schedule.
Harbaugh headed to the Wolverines in 2015 with a history of turning things around at each of his stops. Stanford became a national power under his watch. The San Francisco 49ers reached the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons with the team.
Any ranking of the nation's best head coaches shouldn't include Harbaugh until he proves himself capable of beating a great team away from the Big House, though.
Haskins' Big Day Vaults OSU QB Back Into Heisman Race
While the 2018 Heisman Trophy race starts with Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Haskins put himself back in the mix to warrant an invite to the ceremony in New York on Dec. 8.
Haskins blew past those numbers before the first half ended and set a record by the end of the game:
Much like Ohio State endured some peaks and valleys this season, Haskins went through struggles in his first year leading the offense. The sophomore star has occasionally been erratic when he's had to move outside the pocket.
The Buckeyes took care of that potential problem by making sure Michigan's defense couldn't touch their quarterback:
Taking on an outstanding Wolverines defense with a clean pocket, Haskins showed his ability to dominate with his arm:
Haskins arrived at Ohio State with a lot of hype as a 247Sports 4-star recruit in 2016. He was largely unknown when this season started by virtue of having to play behind J.T. Barrett in 2017, but he's boosted this offense—and his standing in the Heisman race—with 41 touchdown passes on the season.
Ohio State will take on No. 19 Northwestern in the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1. Michigan will wait for championship weekend to play out before it learns which bowl it will play in.