Michigan and Ohio State will not play for the first time since 1917.
“The Game” was canceled Tuesday by the Wolverines because of COVID-19 concerns. No. 3 Ohio State was missing 23 players and coach Ryan Day because of COVID-19 last week against Michigan State, and the Buckeyes still won 52-12. Michigan had several positive tests within the program last week that led to their Dec. 5 game against Maryland being canceled.
“The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “We have not been cleared to participate in practice at this time. Unfortunately, we will not be able to field a team due to COVID-19 positives and the associated quarantining required of close-contact individuals. The decision is disappointing for our team and coaches but their health and safety is paramount, and it will always come first in our decision-making.”
Ohio State (5-0) opened as a 30-point favorite in the game and was looking to continue an eight-game win streak against its rivals. Michigan (2-4) will close the regular season with a losing record for the first time since 2014.
The cancellation will have an impact that will be felt at both schools, the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff. Sporting News looks at the impact of the canceled game:
Will Ohio State make the Big Ten title game?
That’s the big question now, and the Buckeyes have two options:
- Ohio State could schedule a game against another Big Ten opponent this week if there is another cancellation.
- The Big Ten could shuffle this week’s schedule based on which teams cannot play to give the Buckeyes a sixth game.
The Big Ten also could backtrack on the six-game requirement to make the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State is the only unbeaten team left in the conference and will likely be ranked No. 4 in the third set of College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
A third, unlikely option: Let the Buckeyes play a nonconference game. No. 5 Texas A&M had its game against Ole Miss canceled this week, too.
Ohio State is fourth in the FBS with 46.6 points per game, and quarterback Justin Fields remains in the Heisman Trophy hunt. The Buckeyes are looking for a fourth consecutive outright Big Ten championship. Now, the question becomes whether the conference protects its Playoff contender and waives that restriction for the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19.
Can Ohio State still win a national championship?
That’s a separate question. The CFP has no minimum requirement for games played, but Ohio State does not have a great strength of schedule with the five-game sample. The Buckeyes’ five opponents this season have a combined record of 13-19.
Ohio State is undefeated and does have a top-10 victory against No. 8 Indiana on its resume. The Buckeyes do get an extra Big Ten game next week, even if they don’t play in the Big Ten championship game. That could be against a ranked team such as No. 19 Iowa, or No. 25 Wisconsin.
A six-game sample should be enough to get in the College Football Playoff, but it’s not a guarantee.
What does this mean for Michigan, Jim Harbaugh?
The Wolverines opened Jim Harbaugh’s sixth season as head coach with a 49-24 victory against Minnesota, but it went downhill from there in a 2-4 regular season.
The offense struggled to find a rhythm with quarterbacks Joe Milton and Cade McNamara, and the defense allowed 35.8 points per game. Harbaugh’s 0-5 record against the Buckeyes remains intact for another year, but it’s worth remembering three of those losses were in blowout fashion. Ohio State’s average margin of victory in those games is 19 points per game — but that balloons up to 25 points per game the last two seasons.
Will Harbaugh be back for 2021?
New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon reported this week that Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and Harbaugh were negotiating an extension that would come with a decrease in salary.
What we know so far, from solid sources:
UM AD Warde Manuel has discussed with Jim Harbaugh a new contract with lower base salary and buyout, though with good provisions to hire top assistants and large incentives for performance. (1/2)
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) December 8, 2020
Could ‘The Game’ have been played sooner?
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit apologized last week after suggesting the Wolverines would “wave the white flag” and opt out of the 2020 season.
The Wolverines can’t be blamed for dealing with the same issues several other Power 5 schools — including Ohio State — have faced this season.
When the Big Ten released its original conference-only schedule, the Buckeyes and Wolverines were supposed to play on Oct. 24. That was before the conference made the decision to cancel the season. When the Big Ten returned again, The Game was pushed back to Dec. 12.
It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to college football’s best rivalry taking a one-year hiatus.