The modern era of The Game really began in 1969, when the 7-2 U of M Wolverines upset the #1 team in the country, the "unbeatable" Ohio State Buckeyes. This year will mark the 50th game since then, so I thought it'd be worth looking at some statistics around The Game over this incredible time period.
Specifically, I collected AP rankings and records the week before the game, so as to answer: how often does an upset occur? Does the better team usually win? Some answers emerged, as well as some fun facts.
So, a chart? Chart:
The chart is pretty easy to interpret. The left column is the year; the next two columns are Michigan's AP ranking and record immediately prior to The Game; the following two columns are the same information for OSU; the sixth column is the score of The Game (UM-OSU); then, the coaches for each team that year (just initials); finally, a color code of who won (blue for UM, red for OSU).
Each team's color marker appears when the team wins, but is in a slightly different spot depending on whether the win was expected (i.e., the team was higher ranked going into The Game) or the underdog (it was not). I will pretend that the higher ranking means a team was "favored" to win, although I understand this was (perhaps) not always true. In the case of an expected win (e.g., UM in 1971), the blue marker is shifted left; in the case of an upset (e.g., UM in 1969), the marker is shifted right. This allows you to see, at a glance, whether there are a lot of upsets, or mostly expected wins.
Data scraped from two sources: The College Poll Archive (http://collegepollarchive.com) and Michigan's priceless Bentley Archive (https://bentley.umich.edu/athdept/football/football.htm).
I also discovered some fun facts along the way:
- 49 Total Games in this era. Michigan is 21-26-2 (and OSU, naturally, 26-21-2). Just a couple of UM wins in very close games and the records would basically be even.
- 30 times the favored team won; 19 times the favored team lost or tied. Upsets were more common in other eras (Bo-Woody, Carr-Cooper).
- UM won 13 times when favored, and lost/tied 10 times when favored.
- OSU won 17 times when favored, and lost/tied 9 times when favored.
- Rankings are highly correlated with win percentage; only in one year, 1994, did the team with the higher win percentage (OSU) have a lower ranking (OSU won that Game).
- Each team was ranked 40 out of 49 times going into The Game.
- Only one game in this era had both teams unranked: 1987, the Earle Bruce Goodbye game (OSU won that one too).
- There have been 14 games where both teams were ranked in the top-10 going into The Game - these are marked above by black boxes around the entire row. UM is 7-6-1 in these games. Most amazing is the stretch from 1970-1977, where only one year (1971) was the Game not a top-10 vs. top-10 match up.
- One forgets it, but John Cooper and Bo did go head-to-head two times (Bo won both, at least when JC was OSU's coach).
- Since 2004, only twice has UM been expected to win. They won one of those (2011). The rest of the games, OSU was the higher-ranked team, and won, sometimes handily.
- 10 of 49 games have been "blowouts" (won by more than two TDs), 14 "comfortable" wins (more than one TD), and the remaining 25 games -- about half -- have been "close" (won by a TD or less, or tied). UM is 3-7 in blowouts, 8-6 in comfortable wins, and 10-13-2 in close games.
- Each team has had 6 coaches during this era. However, UM had two "failures" (short stints that ended poorly) lasting 7 years, whereas OSU only really had one (the all-too-brief Luke Fickell era).
One last fun thing. In the Bentley archives, for the 2011 Game (the Brady Hoke win), instead of saying "Ohio State", it says "Ohio": https://bentley.umich.edu/athdept/football/fbteam/2011fbt.htm. Cheeky, those archivists, very cheeky!