College football: Ohio State’s dominance of rivalry built by recruiting

By Jim Naveau -

Before Bo Schembechler’s first season as Michigan’s football coach in 1969, he posted a sign in the locker room that said, “Those who stay will be champions.”

He knew what he was talking about. Michigan pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Big Ten football history, maybe in college football history, when it beat No. 1-ranked Ohio State 24-12 to win the Big Ten championship that year at a time when some people were calling the Buckeyes one of the greatest college football teams ever.

Michigan went on to win or share 13 Big Ten championships in Schembechler’s 21 seasons in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State’s current streak of seven straight wins over Michigan, its 14 wins in the last 15 games against them and its 16 wins in their last 18 games are mind boggling enough.

But maybe almost as shocking is the fact Michigan has not won or shared a Big Ten title since 2004.

Nobody at Michigan is hanging a banner that says, “Those who stay long enough to get two master’s degrees and a Ph.D., might be champions.” But it has been almost that long since the Wolverines’ last Big Ten title and must feel even longer.

Ohio State hasn’t just dominated Michigan on the field one Saturday in November in 16 of the last 18 years. It has dominated where it matters most – in winning championships and in filling its roster with the kind of players needed to win championships and the rivalry game year after year.

Since 2001, when Ohio State turned the rivalry around, OSU has recruited 38 5-star players compared to 18 5-stars who signed with Michigan, according to’s composite recruiting rankings. If it signs the two 5-star players who have committed to its 2020 class, Ohio State will hold a 15-4 advantage in 5-star recruits over Michigan since 2015.

Obviously, not all 5-star recruits live up to their rankings. And if talent alone won games, Ohio State would feel a lot better about its record against Michigan in the John Cooper era, when it went 2-10-1 despite having better talent in at least three of those losses (1993, 1995, 1996).

Finding talented athletes, coaching them well and motivating them has made OSU a winner against Michigan every year except two since 2001.

So, what happens Saturday in Ann Arbor? Does No. 1 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten) stay unbeaten and check off another box on its way to the College Football Playoff? Can Ryan Day continue what Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer started in his first season as OSU’s head coach?

Is No. 13 Michigan (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) overdue to beat the Buckeyes? Will it look like the team that has won its last four games impressively or will it look more like the team that lost to Wisconsin and Penn State and had to go to double overtime to beat Army? Can Jim Harbaugh get his first win as a coach against Ohio State?

In its last four games, Michigan has beaten Notre Dame, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana by an average of 30 points a game.

Its quarterback, Shea Patterson, has thrown 12 touchdown passes with only one interception in those four games. After having 13 turnovers in its first six games, Michigan has had only three in its last five games. Defensively, it has held three of its last four opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

If Ohio State plays at a level similar to its first 11 games, it can add another win to its dominance of Michigan.

But this game doesn’t always deliver the expected. Remember last year when Michigan had what was supposed to be the best defense in college football and Ohio State scored 62 points. Strange things can happen. But not this year.

The prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan 27.

By Jim Naveau

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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