This game is always different from all the others in the CFSL, no matter what anybody will tell you. It’s a rivalry game, but that doesn’t even do it justice. They may not talk as much as some of the other rivalries, but the fact is, this game is THE Rivalry Game. No two ways about it. The Game this season holds the fate of the Rose Bowl at stake. Before we get into the deep dive of this particular matchup, let’s walk you through the CFSL history of The Game.

THE GAME

It’s known as The Game for a reason, because the stakes surrounding it tend to be high. In the first meeting, that was exactly the case. The winner of The Game would find themselves in the Orange Bowl, playing for the National Title crown. Ohio State won that game handily. Last season’s meeting saw the Rose Bowl be at stake and the Wolverines returned the favor, defeating the Buckeyes and going into the Rose Bowl. It’s odd though. The winner of The Game tends to lose their bowl game, while the loser of The Game tends to win their bowl game. Question is, will history repeat itself?

MICHIGAN

Javon Mack continues to lead this Michigan offense, although the results haven’t always been pretty. Still, Mack has been doing well for himself from the quarterback position and that is certainly something the Wolverines can take pride in. Wide receivers Bobby Jackson, Nick King, and Darwyn Garcia tend to benefit. Mack is completing a high percentage of his passes, which means these receivers are given the opportunity to try and create big plays with their run-after-catch abilities. Oh, and halfback EJ Mack will continue to keep the pressure off of his brother in the backfield.

Defensively, the void of linebacker Nate Jones has been felt far more heavily than anticipated. Linebacker Jake Lake has had his moments, but has not had the same impact that Jones once did. That said, corner Joshua Priest Jr. is a force to be reckoned with, both in coverage and as a returner. After all, Priest is the only kick returner this season with more than one kickoff return for a touchdown, and Priest has five by himself. Couple that with corner Buchanan Simons who tends to have at least one big game a season and, well, this Wolverine defense could have an outstanding performance.

OHIO STATE

Even though the Buckeyes aren’t undefeated against Michigan, they haven’t let the Wolverines win in The Horseshoe. They’d like to at least maintain that statement, and quarterback Xavier Garcia-Allen will be a big part of that. His passing game has come under fire this season, but the same cannot be said for his rushing talents. Factor in the success with halfback Frost Carlson and this offense can torture a defense. Wide receivers Royce Mills, Jay Duhbbin, and Speedy Johnson all can come up big with the play action getting worked in, not to mention that Brandon Nutting both leads the way for the run and is a fantastic safety valve for Garcia-Allen. This offense may not put up insane numbers, but their versatility screams insanity.

So, that brings us to this defense and what a defense it is. Safety Kevin Brackett leads the charge, literally. Brackett leads the defense in tackles, but in recent weeks, the play around Brackett has risen significantly. Linebackers Scottie James and Joe Clark Jr. have each had impressive games in recent weeks. Not to mention the fact that corner Juan Cantu was a player of the week candidate a week ago. All season long, this defense has gelled impressively and played above their talent on paper. They need to do so again if the Buckeyes hope to claim victory tonight.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

It would be fitting to see these two teams go at each other straight up. One rushing tandem against the other. I certainly feel that could be a major possibility, especially as these two offenses have very talented backfields, albeit different stylistically. From there, may the more talented backfield and better defense win. Who will that be? Well, that part is still up in the air.

X-FACTOR

Royce Mills is the guy I’m looking at. The guy’s had opportunities, but he’s also had some boneheaded drops in crucial moments. If Ohio State is going to win, it’ll take a big play or two from Mills to get the job done. Not to mention the fact that Mills is going up against Joshua Priest Jr., the Michigan corner. That matchup alone could decide the fate of not only this game, but the Rose Bowl as well.

PREDICTION

In the third installment of The Game, the stakes are high once again. The winner dictates who goes to the Rose Bowl and that’s in conjunction with the Penn State-Iowa matchup played prior to this one. Oh, and the pride of the rivalry is at stake too. Ohio State’s got homefield advantage, and had a five game winning streak earlier this season, though they’ve slumped a bit lately. Michigan would love to win two in a row, and claim victory in the Horseshoe. Javon Mack will need a big game for that to happen and I don’t see that being the case against the Ohio State defense. Not to mention how dynamic this Buckeye offense is and, well, I’m saying the Buckeyes get the win with a late field goal and a defensive stand in the closing seconds.

Michigan 35, Ohio State 38