(Almost) 50 Years of The Game (Since Bo/Woody): Best Games, Upsets, And Other Fun Facts

Submitted by Swayze Howell Sheen on November 22nd, 2018 at 11:13 AM

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!



November 22nd, 2018 at 11:55 AM ^

Thanks for putting this together. It puts it in perspective how abnormal OSU's run has been since 2004. Hopefully we see this as the year that things turns around. Go Blue!


November 22nd, 2018 at 1:08 PM ^

Great stuff. I would be interested to know how home field advantage, in your estimation, has played into these stats. 

Hope they will quickly get around to allowing us to plus good pieces like this when the season is over. 

Swayze Howell Sheen

November 22nd, 2018 at 9:01 PM ^

Since I can't edit the above, a few more stats:

  • Home records during the span: UM 13-11-1, OSU 15-8-1
    (UM really hurt by recent streak)
  • Record when favored at home: UM 8-3, OSU 9-3
    (it's good to be the home favorite)
  • Record when underdog at home: UM 5-8-1, OSU 6-5-1
    (favorites can win on the road, but it's harder)




November 23rd, 2018 at 11:43 AM ^

Interesting. I now know that my first experience of The Game was in the pre-modern era. 1964 when I was a student (am I the oldest alum on MGoBlog? Feels like it). Happily, Michigan won: we were ranked higher (6th) than the Buckeyes (7th), but the game was played in Columbus. We went on to win the Rose Bowl.

Are the stars aligned again, as I have wondered in an earlier posting? Let us hope so.

Go Blue!


November 23rd, 2018 at 3:32 PM ^

The 1971 game was not as highly regarded on that list posted, but that was my first game and a great game. That is a game in which Billy Taylor scored with only about two minutes remaining to win it for M.   And Woody Hayes had one of his most famous temper tantrums too

I cannot say that I really enjoyed any one of the game's more since that one. I win in 2018 would change that!