Ohio State vs Michigan: 5 key players in ‘The Game’ 2016

Nov 19, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback John O
Nov 19, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback John O /
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These five players could make the difference in Saturday’s mammoth showdown between the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes and No. 3 Michigan Wolverines.

While The Game is an intense matchup in any season, the 2016 version carries some extra significance.

The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes will host the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines at noon Eastern in Columbus. This year’s stakes in the storied rivalry are higher than ever outside of the 2006 classic, as the winner will feel good about their chances of reaching the College Football Playoff.

Michigan is guaranteed a spot if it wins out, as the Wolverines will clinch the Big Ten East should they pull off the road upset on Saturday. Ohio State needs some help to win the division even with a victory, but a one-loss Buckeyes team would still be squarely in the mix.

Saturday’s matchup at Ohio Stadium will feature plenty of star power and a number of top NFL prospects. Ohio State is very young as a whole but features an accomplished upperclassman quarterback in J.T. Barrett, while do-it-all Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers can polish his Heisman resume with a strong outing.

Beyond those huge names, look for these five players to make a difference in the college football regular season game of the year.

5. Ben Braden, OL, Michigan

For most of the season, Michigan’s offensive line has paved the way for Jim Harbaugh’s prefered brand of smashmouth football. The Wolverines returned plenty of experience and versatility on the line, particularly before Grant Newsome was lost for the season to a knee injury, helping them to overwhelm most opponents in the trenches.

That wasn’t the case in the early stages last week against the Indiana Hoosiers, as the Wolverines were pushed around at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh must have given an inspiring speech at halftime, as the offensive line showed up in a big way late to provide a necessary spark to De’Veon Smith and the running game.

The Wolverines will need their best performance of the season in the trenches to pull off the upset. That starts with Braden, a two-year starter who has been playing left tackle recently but has the versatility to move elsewhere if needed.

Ohio State has little experience in the front seven, but the group features tons of athleticism. Braden will need to ensure the likes of Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Raekwon McMillan don’t run amok in the Michigan backfield.

Michigan needs to run the ball well to support backup quarterback John O’Korn, making Braden one of the most important players on the field.