Sports

ESPN would love an Ohio State/Michigan rematch

When the Big Ten signed a massive seven-year, $7 billion media rights deal with Fox, CBS, and NBC last year, ESPN was left out in the cold. But if championship weekend gets wild and Michigan and Ohio State are lucky enough to find themselves both in the College Football Playoff with the opportunity to play each other again — ESPN would be the ones reaping all the benefits.

This is college football, where the impossible is a frequent visitor.

The numbers from last weekend’s Michigan-Ohio State game are in, and as usual, they made history. According to The Athletic, “Saturday’s showdown was the most-watched college football game of the 2023 regular season, averaging 19.1 million viewers on Fox. The matchup was the most-watched regular-season game on any network since 2011 when LSU-Alabama averaged 20 million viewers. It was also the most-watched college football regular-season game ever on Fox.”

With FOX being the network that broadcasted Michigan’s last three games — Penn State, Maryland, and Ohio State — they’ve been the lucky network when it comes to Michigan and their drama-filled season. However, the Wolverines have aired on Peacock, NBC, The Big Ten Network, CBS, and FOX this season, as everyone was able to get a piece of them.

On Tuesday, the College Football Playoffs latest rankings were released. The list goes: Georgia, Michigan, Washington, and Florida State. After that, Oregon, Ohio State, Texas, and Alabama follow as Saturday will determine so much before the committee selects the four teams who will play for it all.

If Alabama upsets Georgia, what will that mean? Would they be in?

If Michigan stumbles against Iowa, does it mean the Wolverines are out even though they have wins over Ohio State and Penn State — two top-10 victories — on their resume?

If Oregon can take out Washington, does it mean the Huskies are done? Or would a win for the Ducks make them the lone Pac-12 representative?

The Seminoles don’t have their starting quarterback. Can they win the ACC Championship and still be viewed as worthy candidates even if it looks like other teams are “more deserving?”

And where does Texas fit in all this mess if Alabama beats Georgia, given that Texas beat Alabama?

This is what happens when we’re heading into championship weekend with four undefeated teams from four different conferences, with the four teams behind them all being really good one-loss teams.

Somebody is going to get their feelings hurt, regardless of what happens.

But, this is why the executives at ESPN/ABC are probably hoping for some upsets on Saturday, as the possibility of having Michigan and Ohio State in the final four would do numbers for a network that doesn’t get the benefit of airing the Big Ten’s media ratings darling anymore.

According to SportsMediaWatch, the Wolverines and Buckeyes marked “the largest audience for the rivalry since their No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting in 2006 (21.04M) and the second-largest on record. The 9.0 rating is also the highest for the rivalry since their No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in 2016 (9.4) and the third-highest behind that year and 2006 (13.0). (That excludes a 1995 game that aired regionally on ABC and drew a 10.5 rating.) The Wolverines’ win, which peaked with 22.90 million from 3:30-3:45 p.m. ET, delivered the largest regular season college football audience overall in 12 years — since a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of LSU and Alabama in 2011 (20.01M).”

It doesn’t matter if all the drama around Jim Harbaugh and Michigan has turned you off, or if the thought of liking anything from Ohio makes your stomach churn, the data proves that people really like it when these two teams play each other.

Earlier this season, when Deion Sanders and Colorado were the stars of college football, their 42-6 loss to Oregon registered as the most-watched game of the season pulling 10.03 million viewers on ABC. As much hype as that game created, Michigan and Ohio State basically doubled it. The likelihood of us getting to see the Wolverines and Buckeyes play each other again in a few weeks is highly unlikely given that it’s never happened before. But if it did, ESPN would be smiling all the way to the bank.



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