Five Burning Questions Heading Into Saturday's Ohio State–Michigan Showdown

By Tim Shoemaker on November 25, 2016 at 1:05 pm
Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh before last year's version of The Game.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The 113th edition of Ohio State–Michigan kicks off in 23 hours.

It's the biggest game in this storied rivalry in a decade. It has Big Ten and national championship implications, just like that thriller back in 2006.

You probably didn't need to be reminded of this, of course, as many fans have the annual showdown between the Buckeyes and Wolverines circled on their calendars all year long. It's that important.

With a win, No. 2-ranked Ohio State puts itself in a good position to make the College Football Playoff even if it doesn't get an opportunity to play for the Big Ten championship. With a win over the Wolverines, the Buckeyes need a Penn State loss to Michigan State to go to Indianapolis.

For No. 3 Michigan, it's a bit simpler. A victory against Ohio State sends the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game. A win in Indianapolis and Michigan is headed to the College Football Playoff.

So yeah, there's a lot on the line.

Ahead of Saturday's showdown, which kicks at noon inside Ohio Stadium, let's look at five burning questions for Ohio State–Michigan version No. 113.

1. Who Will Be Michigan's Starting Quarterback?

Wilton Speight's injury is the biggest mystery heading into this game. There were reports after Michigan's loss to Iowa stating its starting quarterback would be lost for the season due to a broken collarbone, but Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly denied that, saying Speight continues to be "day-to-day."

John O'Korn started for Michigan in last week's win over Indiana and struggled. He finished just 7-for-16 passing for 59 yards. If O'Korn gets the nod against the Buckeyes, that's a huge edge for Ohio State as he simply didn't look like the player Speight did the first 10 games of the season.

There are rumblings out of Ann Arbor, however, that Speight will be ready to go Saturday. If he does, that's big for Michigan. But just how effective can the junior signal caller be playing through that type of injury? We'll have to wait and see on that one.

2. Can the Ohio State Offense Find Explosion Against Michigan's Defense?

It's no secret Ohio State's offense is at its best when it hits big, explosive plays. When the Buckeyes can't connect on some of those big shots — either through runs or in the passing game — they sometimes become predictable on offense.

That won't work against Michigan's top-ranked defense. The Wolverines have athletes all over the field and are as aggressive as they come. If Ohio State can't hit some big plays, it could be a long day at the office.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett will need to make some plays with his arm against Michigan's talented secondary and the Buckeyes will need playmakers like Curtis Samuel, Mike Weber and Noah Brown to bring the explosive plays against the Wolverines.

3. Whose Mr. Versatility Has A Bigger Game?

Ohio State's Curtis Samuel and Michigan's Jabrill Peppers are two of college football's most versatile weapons. They do everything for their respective teams. 

Samuel touched the ball only eight teams in Ohio State's win over Michigan State last weekend. Expect that number to at least double against the Wolverines. That means Samuel should have plenty of chances to put his stamp on this game, and whether it's at running back, wide receiver, punt returner or Wildcat quarterback, that's good news for Ohio State.

Peppers, Michigan's two-way star, might see an increased role on offense this week for the Wolverines. He plays just about every position on defense for Michigan, too, and is one of the most aggressive defensive players in the country. Like Samuel, he'll be looking to make quite a few big plays for his team.

4. Who Wins the Turnover Battle?

This is an important question for just about every game that ever gets played, but in a game of this magnitude, turnovers become even more magnified.

Ohio State's defense has been a turnover-forcing machine all season long and if the Buckeyes can find a way to force a turnover or two from Wilton Speight or John O'Korn, that's obviously a big bonus, especially when you consider how Ohio State has converted those turnovers into points this season.

The Buckeyes don't turn the ball over a ton themselves, either. Barrett has thrown just four interceptions this year and Weber and Samuel have been pretty good securing the football all season, though Weber did lose a fumble last week at Michigan State.

5. Who Will Be the non-superstar to Make a Big Play?

There is a crazy amount of superstar talent on both sides of this game. Ohio State with J.T. Barrett, Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Malik Hookers and others. Michigan with Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt, De'Veon Smith, Jourdan Lewis and more. 

But it seems like a less-heralded guy always makes a play or two in this game and launches himself into rivalry lore. Who has that player in Saturday's showdown?

We're not going to pretend like we know the answer to this question, but we're likely to find out soon.

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