In the Big Ten, Ohio State is a unicorn. It’s a hard-living, fast-driving, take-no-prisoners action flick. The Buckeyes are strobe lights and glow sticks. The rest of the league is a Tupperware party.
Except maybe Michigan.
The Wolverines thumped No. 10 Penn State 41-17 on Saturday, and that makes it hard to lump them into the rest of the Big Ten pack. They’re something different — even if we’re still not quite sure exactly how different. That Michigan was the better team Saturday is unquestionable. That Penn State managed 17 points was a near miracle. The Nittany Lions held the ball for just 18:04, and roughly 17:50 of that time was spent in third-and-long.
Instead, it was the Michigan ground game that offered true fireworks. Donovan Edwards ran for 173. Blake Corum ran for 166. Both had runs of 60-plus yards. It has been a winning formula for the Wolverines to run their monster backs into a brick wall again and again and know that, ultimately, the wall will give up.
And yet, cast against Ohio State’s seemingly unstoppable offense and suddenly rejuvenated D, it’s fair to ask if Michigan’s formula is ultimately good enough to win at the highest level.
Ohio State is dynamic and flashy. Michigan feels a bit like its coach’s preferred pants — not quite formal, not quite casual, completely functional and so bland it’s oddly interesting.
Last year, that was enough. Ohio State’s flash was impressive when it worked and a train wreck when it didn’t. Good or bad, it was interesting.
Michigan could be dull and predictable, but it rarely disappeared in big moments, and that was enough to punch a playoff ticket. And even after that, it was still clear that improvement was needed, and so Jim Harbaugh went through the motions of a QB battle perfectly designed to achieve the desired result. And now with JJ McCarthy, Michigan is again good and reliable and… mostly using the same formula it did a year ago.
To look down the Big Ten standings at teams like Penn State, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin or Purdue is to sift through a freezer full of vanilla ice cream. To look at Ohio State is to see a bottomless tub of 31 flavors with sprinkles and hot fudge. And what is Michigan? Not vanilla, clearly. But perhaps French vanilla?
Saturday’s dominance of Penn State was a statement. In the country’s second-richest (and, therefore, second-best) conference, Michigan stands out from the crowd. It is a team that made the College Football Playoff just a year ago, then seemed almost an afterthought all offseason, returned to the field with a plethora of wins against cupcakes that all added up to… what? Even after Saturday, are we ready to include Michigan on the same tier as the Buckeyes?
Perhaps the problem is us. Perhaps we’re fools, constantly dazzled by the shiniest object, and Ohio State polishes its chrome with the best of them. Perhaps we simply cannot appreciate the physical, run-it-down-your-throat-then-keep-running approach of the Wolverines.
After all, the Big Ten is about to cash a $1-billion-a-year TV check in exchange for long field goal drives (15-, 19-, 15- and 14-play efforts in Illinois’ 26-14 win Saturday) and Brian Ferentz ruining nepotism for a generation of spoiled rich kids. Certainly there’s an audience, and perhaps we simply lack the refined palette.
Maybe the takeaway from Michigan’s dominance of Penn State isn’t to suggest that the Wolverines are fun or ready for a showdown with that team down south to decide who makes the playoff. Perhaps all that needs to be said is that Michigan is 7-0, and we’re all going to have to keep watching.
Sooners bounce back
Brent Venables finally got a Big 12 win Saturday. It probably felt a bit like getting your dinner free because you finished a 96-ounce steak. Yeah, it’s a win, but there’s bound to be some vomit soon afterward.
With Dillon Gabriel back in the saddle at QB, the Oklahoma offense was exceptional, racking up 701 yards of offense — the Sooners’ most in a Big 12 game since 2018. That’s the good news.
The bad news for Venables, the defensive mastermind, is Oklahoma surrendered 42 points to Kansas, the fourth straight game the Sooners have allowed 40 or more.
This season has served as something like a “Twilight Zone” episode, where Venables rubbed the lamp of some diabolical genie. After a decade leading Clemson’s staunch defense, he finally landed his dream job, returning to Oklahoma as head coach. The cost? His defense will make Jason Bean look like Joe Burrow.
But hey, a win is a win, and Oklahoma now has one in conference play, and no matter what happened last week, at least Sooners fans can still remind Texas that they actually beat Kansas.
Under-the-radar play of the day
Coastal Carolina entered Week 7 as one of just two remaining undefeated teams outside the Power 5. Unfortunately, no one told the Chanticleers’ defense.
Grayson McCall threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns in the loss, but it was not nearly enough.
Old Dominion running back Blake Watson carried 18 times for 256 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring runs of 25, 58 and 67 yards.
On the 67-yard run that put ODU up 42-21, Watson hits a crowd of Chanticleers defenders, who each stumble and flail like a guy trying to make his way to the bar at Ocean Annie’s at 2 a.m.
Blake Watson crosses goal line for 67-yard touchdown
The most college football thing to happen Saturday
A quarterback who looks like he played base for Foreigner in the early 1980s threw a touchdown pass to a receiver who looks like he played rhythm guitar for .38 Special on that same tour, then the receiver, Jordan Whittington, celebrated with a really big cow — as one does.
Jordan Whittington scores the Texas touchdown and celebrates with Bevo the mascot.
Big bets and bad beats
Iowa State had its share of chances to knock off No. 22 Texas on Saturday, with QB Hunter Dekkers turning the ball over once in the end zone and, on the Cyclones’ final drive, fumbling deep into Texas territory. In the end, Iowa State lost 24-21, but for bettors who had the Cyclones +15.5, it was of little concern. Matt Campbell’s run of success as a touchdown (or more) underdog in Big 12 play continues to be a near lock. Iowa State has now covered in 15 of its last 16 games when a dog of seven points or more in conference play.