The Ohio State-Michigan series is one of the great rivalries in sports. Throw Michigan State into the mix and you add two more matchups that capture the interest of all Big Ten fans. Of course, each program relies heavily on home-grown talent for their success, and a look at the talent each state produces can give some insight into the future of each college program. What would happen if the best high school talent in the 2011 class from Michigan went head to head with the best from Ohio?
Michigan offense vs. Ohio defense
It all starts up front where team Ohio has a clear advantage, not only against Michigan, but most other states in the country. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett and defensive end Kenny Hayes are Rivals100 prospects and could both make pushes for five-star status later this year. Ohio will run a 3-4, which does not play to Bennett's strength as a slashing, pass-rushing interior lineman, but it does provide the opportunity to get defensive ends Steve Miller and Austin Traylor on the field, both four-star prospects. Traylor can play a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role in a 3-4 defense. Miller's skills are best used as a weakside end in a 4-3, but make no mistake, the Canton McKinley star can make an impact no matter what the scheme is. With Traylor's unique skills, Ohio's defensive coordinator can switch formations without having to change personnel much, giving the Michigan offensive line and quarterback a bigger challenge of identifying the defense and choosing a blocking scheme.
This could be the game's biggest mismatch. Michigan's offensive line does not have any four-star prospects. Traverse City standouts Jacob Fisher and Kyle Lints are tough players with a lot of potential down the road. But they will need time to develop at the next level, and the challenge of going against physically superior and advanced prospects like Bennett, Hayes and Miller will be very difficult. Ramadan Ahmeti, Jalen Schlachter and Ethan Wirth round out an offensive line charged with a very tough task of stopping Ohio's defensive front.
In order to have a successful 3-4 defense, Ohio needs a pair of stud inside linebackers. That's where crowd favorites Zack Shaw and Andre Sturdivant come in. Both are big, mean and very productive tacklers - a perfect combination for the 3-4. Shaw and Sturdivant are intimidating in stature. While Shaw and Sturdivant control the middle of the defensive front, Rivals100 outside linebacker Trey DePriest has the freedom to cover ground and patrol the entire field as an outside linebacker.
In the defensive backfield, Ohio features the nation's best cornerback, Doran Grant. Ohio State commit Derjuan Gambrell will play strongside cornerback, and be a physical presence against the run and in the passing game. Four-star prospect Eilar Hardy and Ohio State commit Ron Tanner combine to form a smart, and very capable safety duo.
Midwest recruiting fans will get the matchup they have been talking about for more than a year- Doran Grant against Rivals100 wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett. Grant has some major factors working in his advantage. Ohio's defensive front is able to put constant pressure on quarterback Alex Niznak. Grant and Gambrell decide to play a lot of bump coverage, knowing that Hardy and Tanner are heady and reliable safeties behind them. Arnett is an extremely difficult receiver to cover in one-on-one settings, and has proved that in multiple prospect camps. But more precise route running is required in a game setting, and Grant is able to knock off Arnett and Niznak's timing. Opportunities to make a big play are few and far between in this matchup, thanks to pressure on the quarterback and Ohio's physical play in the defensive backfield.
Grand Blanc's Justice Hayes is the best running back in the game, and gives Michigan an opportunity to exploit the opposition's defense. Hayes' well-rounded skills as a running back are a major threat to any defense and ends up being Michigan's best offensive weapon of the day.
Michigan receivers Shawn Conway and Kenny Knight are bigger targets, but Ohio's pass-rushing pressure and Grant and Gambrell's cover skills would prevent Michigan's receivers from piling up big plays down the field.
Ohio offense vs. Michigan defense
While Grant and Arnett put on a show, the game's most interesting matchup features Rivals100 dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller, an Ohio State commit, against an athletic and rangy group of Michigan linebackers, including Ed Davis, Taiwan Jones and the game's top-ranked prospect, Lawrence Thomas.
Miller presents a difficult assignment for any defense. He has the ability to attack any part of the field with his strong arm, but can also devastate a defense with his running ability. If there is any linebacker in the country that can handle the assignment of shadowing Miller, it is Lawrence Thomas, a Michigan State commit. At 6 feet 4 and 232 pounds, Thomas has incredible athleticism, and can cover the field with his speed and quickness, and close quickly on any ball carrier. Taiwan Jones is one of the game's biggest surprises. Physically, he looks similar to Thomas, and the signs of improvement he showed during the summer camp season would translate to this game. Ed Davis plays a similar role to Austin Traylor, a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
Michigan's defensive line features a very strong pair of defensive ends in Anthony Zettel and Brennen Beyer, a Michigan commit. Both players are capable of winning most one-on-one matchups against Ohio's offensive line, but finishing the play by getting a good shot on Miller is very difficult.
Ohio's offensive line is stronger than Michigan's offensive line. Aundrey Walker is the highest rated of the bunch. Because of his experience at guard, he starts beside Ryan Kelly, one of the nation's better center prospects. Ohio State commit Chris Carter also starts at guard. In order to handle athletic pass rushers like Beyer and Davis, Ohio starts Chase Farris at left tackle. Farris, a Buckeye commitment, is currently projected as a defensive end. But he also is a standout at tackle for Elyria High School, and at 265 pounds, could easily grow into an offensive tackle in Columbus. Cincinnati Finneytown's Donavon Clark starts at right tackle.
Ohio lacks an elite every-down back, so Miller works out of the shotgun with all-purpose back Antwan Gilbert at this side. Like Michigan, Ohio relies heavily on its passing game. Miller has two big receiving targets in Cody Latimer and Devin Smith, an Ohio State commit. Fellow receiver Shane Wynn works out of the slot and gives Ohio one of the nation's best kick returners. The wildcard is Nick Vannett, a matchup nightmare for most defenses with his height, pass catching skills and ability to get down the field in a hurry.
Michigan's defensive backs are a gritty group. There is something special about Detroit-area defensive backs. Four-star prospects Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell, a Michigan commit, are ultra-competitive and not scared to get physical with the bigger Ohio receivers.
However, Miller's patience and new-found decision making skills are the key. All offseason, he read about his weaknesses as a decision maker and game manager. Miller is out to show his improvements, and knows big plays are out there, just not on every play.
Michigan's defense has enough talent to hold up pretty well against the Ohio offense for most of the game. But in the end, Ohio's defense would be too much for Michigan and could cause game-deciding turnovers by the Michigan offense.
Ohio forces two Michigan turnovers in the second half to come away with a 10-point win.