I was recently speaking to a Michigan fan who, despite a few adult beverages, seemed knowledgeable about his favorite program and college football in general. One comment he made to me was that the Wolverines’ football schedule was “certainly harder” than Ohio State’s.
At the time I laughed it off and blamed it on his fandom and the booze, but after talking to other Michigan fans, I’ve realized this thought was not exclusive to him.
Even some reasonable – and sober – Michigan supporters argued with me that the 2016 schedule for The Team Up North was more difficult than the team down south, which surprised me.
A quick look at the two schedules side by side shows a trip to Oklahoma in the non-conference portion for the Buckeyes and back-to-back away night games in October against Wisconsin and Penn State. Meanwhile, the Maize and Blue don’t play consecutive away contests all season.
While it was difficult for any Wolverine fan to argue about the non-conference (Michigan plays Hawaii, Central Florida, and Colorado at the Big House), multiple people informed me that as the weather gets colder, Michigan’s schedule becomes harder. Fans pointed to trips to Rutgers (OSU hosts the Scarlet Knights) and a late-season night game in Iowa City (the Buckeyes do not face the Hawkeyes).
A trip to Iowa is never easy, but surely an after-dark kickoff in Madison at least neutralizes that game. But no. Apparently last year’s appearance – and loss – in the Big Ten Title Game is still fresh in the minds of some Michigan fans and that will have a direct impact on how tough it is to earn a win on Nov. 19.
I even had one person bring up that while Ohio State and the Wolverines both travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, the Maize and Blue do it earlier in the year, meaning they likely face a healthier Spartans squad.
While last year’s results don’t necessarily impact how good a program is the following year, even the records of the teams on the schedule favor OSU.
The Maize and Blue’s opponents had a combined 2015 record of 78-76 with five making bowl games and one playing in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State meanwhile face teams with a 95-61 combined record last year and two teams that were in the CFP semifinals.
Of course, most of these fans pointed to the regular season finale where Michigan has to travel to Columbus and face the Buckeyes. While I couldn’t argue that it’s more difficult to play that rivalry game on the road, I did mention OSU’s success at Michigan Stadium as recently as last year (42-13).
What I learned, aside from there being unreasonable passion for a team in places other than Columbus, is that the common perception is Michigan’s schedule is generally more difficult than Ohio State’s.
To be fair, this may be true in any given year. Until two seasons ago, the Wolverines faced Notre Dame annually, which typically presents at least somewhat of a challenge. Like the Scarlet and Gray, The Team Up North typically schedules at least one new Power Five opponent per year, but it doesn’t always pan out as that big of a game when it is actually played.
When it comes down to it, however, all that will matter at the year’s end is these two teams’ final record. The strength of schedule shouldn’t have an impact on their College Football Playoff chances if either of these teams sits on one or no losses and can win the Big Ten.
But it would be like Michigan to take advantage of that “stronger” schedule and come to Ohio Stadium undefeated. If recent history is any indication though, the Wolverines shouldn’t expect to leave The Horseshoe without a blemish.