Ohio State faces Michigan this weekend, and you know what that means. It’s time for everybody to argue about The Spot again.
I mean, this makes sense. The Spot — J.T. Barrett’s critical fourth down conversion in overtime of last year’s game that set up Ohio State’s winning touchdown — is the most controversial recent moment in one of the biggest rivalries in all of football.
It spawned a million frantic MS Paint breakdowns from Michigan fans, launched a referee conspiracy, and even today, some Michigan players aren’t backing down. They think The Spot was bad.
It’s fun to keep going on about this, (especially since Actually, The Spot was good).
But the 2016 edition of The Game was a classic for a bunch of other reasons besides the contentious ending.
By constantly harping on this final moment, I think we forget some important things that might cloud popular perception of Ohio State, Michigan, Jim Harbaugh, and more.
Let’s roll the tape back a little bit from that very good Spot here for a second, and remember a few things.
2016 Michigan was really, really good.
You might have seen comments out there reminding you that Michigan has never finished better than third in the Big Ten East under Jim Harbaugh, that Harbaugh is 1-4 against Ohio State and Michigan State, or that it’s been over 400 days since Michigan beat a team with a winning record. Those facts might lead you to conclude that Harbaugh is not successful at Michigan or is overrated.
I think that discussion cannot happen without acknowledging that 2016 Michigan was an exceptional team. It finished third in the final S&P+ rankings, despite that 10-3 record, and was second in defensive S&P+. The Wolverines demolished what turned out to be a pretty good Colorado team, obliterated eventual Big Ten champion Penn State by 39, and their three losses were by one point, one point, and three points in double overtime.
A bit unlucky? Yes. Some glitchy offense later in the season? Sure. Good enough to have been a Playoff-caliber team? Unquestionably.
I realize that in 10 years, nobody is going to remember Michigan’s S&P+ ranking from 2016. They’re going to look at the W-L record, see the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State, and draw different conclusions. So let me offer this for the historical record. Michigan was one of the four best teams of 2016. Had the Wolverines played 2016 Ohio State 10 times, they should have probably won, like, seven times.
Michigan should have won this game way before The Spot.
The Wolverines held a 10-point lead and held Ohio State to 3-of-16 on third down and 3.9 yards per pass attempt. Outside of the Buckeyes’ opening drive (which led to a missed field goal), they gained just 24 yards of total offense in the first half. Three turnovers, including one that went for a pick-six, and another inside the Ohio State 2-yard line, prevented the Wolverines from taking advantage.
Sure, the Buckeyes made some mistakes, like missing multiple field goals and a horrific fake punt that gave Michigan the ball at the Ohio State 22. But until the fourth quarter, it was mostly controlled by the Wolverines. The Spot shouldn’t have ever happened.
Oh yeah, Harbaugh is also at fault here too.
It’s late in the third quarter, and Michigan has a 17-7 lead. Wilton Speight throws a bad interception to Jerome Baker, giving the Buckeyes prime field position. Given how poorly Ohio State’s offense has played, this is a major moment.
Michigan is called for an offside penalty, and Harbaugh loses his mind, breaking his headset.
He’s flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and now Ohio State has first-and-goal from the Michigan 4. Two plays later, it’s 17-14.
Would Ohio State have scored a touchdown anyway? Possibly. But this blowup was a bit of a turning point, as every Ohio State drive but one for the rest of the game would lead to either a score or a missed field goal. It’s possible that, had Ohio State been forced to open its playbook a bit more, Michigan could have held it to a field goal on a day when Ohio State’s kicking game was struggling.
Plus, it’s fair to point out Michigan’s playcalling didn’t help maximize scoring chances. Harbaugh has coached better games.
This game had enormous narrative implications.
Watch it again, and you see a game in which Michigan mostly controlled the run of play, made a few big mistakes, got outplayed in the final quarter, and put itself in a position to lose on the basis of a (good) Spot. In the end, the Wolverines lost a very close game to another very good team. Then Ohio State went off to the College Football Playoff and got nuked by Clemson.
Bill Landis at Cleveland.com had an entire alternate history of how things might have been different if The Spot was bad (which it wasn’t, because it was good), and raises some good questions. How do we view Harbaugh if he has a Big Ten East title (and likely a Big Ten title) to his name? What about Meyer? Or James Franklin, for that matter? Would the decisions of draft-eligible players at Michigan and Ohio State look differently? Could Michigan have beaten Clemson in the Playoff and hung with Alabama?
Those few inches mattered quite a bit!
Also, let’s not forget. This game was awesome!
Okay, sure, maybe there’s some bias here, since I am an Ohio State fan, but by most objective measures, this game really was awesome. It was a tightly contested, passionate rivalry grudge match that was close until the final play. We said it was the third-best game in all of 2016, only behind the Rose Bowl and the national title game.
Unless you’re a diehard Wolverine still sore about The Spot (which was good), you have to admit this game ruled.
We don’t have to let The Spot dominate how we feel about this game or either of these teams.
The 2016 Ohio State-Michigan game was an awesome, back-and-forth, defensive battle with lots of interesting highlights beyond that single controversial play. There were plenty of opportunities, more for Michigan, but some for Ohio State, when the game could have been settled before The Spot (which was good). We don’t need to constantly relitigate it, in my humble opinion.
And now, this year’s game still has plenty of stakes, both for Ohio State’s Playoff chances and the growth and trajectory of the Michigan program, plus bragging rights.
Besides, The Spot was good.