It all came down to the wire between Michigan and Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 26 as the Wolverines fell in a double overtime thriller to the Buckeyes, 27-30. Now that the dust has settled and the initial shock has worn off, just what are the chances of a playoff appearance and a Big Ten title for Michigan?
Ask anyone in Ann Arbor about where Michigan’s playoff chances stand and the consensus is slim to none but hopeful. Wolverines’ co-captain Chris Wormley certainly thinks they deserve a spot.
“They’re saying Wisconsin can do that if they win next week and we beat that team, so there’s probably some things that have to go our way, there’s probably some people that have to be on our side of the committee or however that works. But we’ve played good football all year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’re excited for whatever happens.”
Heading into Rivalry Week, the Michigan Wolverines seemed not only confident but poised to dethrone their most loathed rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite a flash in the pan loss to Iowa by one point, the Jim Harbaugh-led maize and blue were riding high off an Indiana win and the anticipation of an 11-1 record to close out the regular season. The first three quarters saw the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense pulling out all the stops and shutting Ohio State’s sputtering offense out of the game. Most notable was a pick by Wolverines’ defender Jabrill Peppers (his first career interception) in the second quarter with key contributions made by special teams and the offense. Even though the Buckeyes forced three turnovers and pulled down two interceptions to score their only two touchdowns in regulation, they struggled to stay off the ropes. Cue the start of the fourth quarter and the implosion of Michigan’s defense.
The Wolverines allowed 177 yards and 10 downs in the fourth quarter and overtime amid some questionable calls. After sending the first field goal flying wide left, Buckeyes kicker Tyler Durbin redeemed himself on a second attempt with a successful 23 yarder to tie it 17-17. For the first time in the rivalry’s storied 117-year history, the game would go into overtime. Meanwhile, the momentum continued its shift into Buckeye territory. A JT Barrett driven touchdown on first possession was almost immediately answered by a remarkable catch in the end zone by Michigan’s Ansa Darbah to force the game into double overtime.
The biggest play and most contested call involved Barrett and a final Ohio State first down at first and goal. University of Michigan fans would argue that Barrett fell short just inches of the line. After careful review, the reversed call that would have ended the game was ruled in favor of Ohio State and 15 yards later, Curtis Samuel ran in the final touchdown for the win, 30-27 OSU. Even with this stinging loss, a shot at a Big Ten title remained alive if Michigan State could miraculously upset Penn State. Unfortunately, given that Penn State pummeled Michigan State and Washington, Wisconsin and Clemson all took home wins over their respective rivals, it’s pretty safe to say a Michigan Big Ten title is once again out of the question. So what is the likelihood that Michigan can still clinch a national playoff spot?
Even though Michigan ousted Penn State and Wisconsin in the regular season, it’s more likely than not that both teams will face off in the conference title game on Dec. 3. This leaves the maize and blue with no more chances to impress the selection committee. However, should the outcome of upcoming title games between Clemson versus Virginia and Colorado versus Washington result in one or both losses, there may be a slight chance to open a window into the playoffs or at least put Michigan in the conversation. The problem is winning a conference championship tends to score high in the selection criteria for determining a national champion. Since U of M will not be making an appearance in Indianapolis on Saturday, the question remains whether No. 5 Wolverines’ résumé (10-2, three wins over top 10 teams) is enough to keep them in contention as the best two loss team for a national playoff spot. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Will the Wolverines’ portfolio hold weight or is a BCS playoff appearance just not in the cards?