Can Michigan finally break through with a truly big win for Jim Harbaugh?
The Wolverines have flunked so many litmus tests since Harbaugh took over before the 2015 season that few even ask the question any more. Fans, pundits, and bettors have given up hope.
Harbaugh seems capable of only keeping Michigan in the second tier of college football relevance. The Wolverines aren’t going to reach the College Football Playoff, but they can remain ranked high enough to keep playing (and losing) prominent bowl games.
Michigan hosts Ohio State on Saturday (Fox, noon) amid this backdrop of prominent failures:
- An 0-4 record straight up versus the Buckeyes in the Harbaugh era, losing by a combined 165-99. That’s more than 40 points allowed on average. Last season’s low point was a 62-39 loss laying 3.5 points in Columbus.
- The Wolverines are 1-3 straight up in bowl games, losing their past three as favorites. Michigan lost in the Orange Bowl to Florida State 33-32 laying 7 points (an eight-point market miss), lost in the Outback Bowl to South Carolina 26-19 laying 9 points (a 16-point miss), and lost in the Peach Bowl to Florida 41-15 laying 4.5 points (a 30.5-point miss).
- An ugly 35-14 loss earlier this season at Wisconsin as 3-point underdogs that seemed to seal the deal. Harbaugh just didn’t have it any more. His approach was outdated, his quirky style out-of-tune with today’s college students, and his alumni supporters out of patience.
Hope, nevertheless, has been reborn because of a dramatic turnaround since the mauling in Madison.
- Michigan is 7-1 straight up and against the point spread its past eight games and playing like it finally understands what it takes to win.
- Michigan’s only loss in that stretch was a 28-21 nailbiter at Penn State where it dropped a late touchdown pass.
- Michigan (-1) crushed Notre Dame 45-14 … a team that’s won its past three games by a combined 130-34.
If a statement win is going to happen, now’s the time. Many observers sense Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown before another big whiff. Fool bettors once, shame on you. Fool bettors twice, shame on them. Fool bettors in almost every big game deep into a fifth season? That suggests caution for underdog lovers at the very least.
Sharps have established they do like this ’dog to cover at +9 or higher. If professional bettors liked Ohio State in this price range, they would have jumped in early before the public, driving the line to at least the key number of -10. That didn’t happen. Some ’dog lovers have nibbled at +9. Others are waiting to see if public sentiment creates any bonus Saturday morning value.
Scoring an outright upset would require a clean game from erratic Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, and probably multiple turnovers from a rattled visitor. Ohio State lost the ball three times in a 28-17 win over Penn State last week. A cover? A lower hurdle, but one still probably keyed by the turnover category.
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