It’s always one of the most anticipated games of the college football regular season, and the stakes are incredibly high this year. Fox will air the annual Michigan-Ohio State game Saturday noon, with a Big Ten Championship berth and likely at least one berth in the College Football Playoffs at stake.
Last year’s Michigan-Ohio State matchup was the most-watched game of the 2021 regular season, averaging 15.893 million viewers. The most-watched game of this college football season so far is the Week 10 matchup between Georgia and Tennessee, which is yet to be beaten by the SEC and which averaged 13.059 million viewers on CBS.
How many viewers will be watching Michigan-Ohio State this year? Our employees let go of their predictions.
Ben Koo: We have two pretty good data points for judging, with 2016 and 2021 being similar to this year’s matchup in that the OSU vs. Michigan game winner is one Big Ten Championship game away from the playoffs. Last year’s game was just under 16 million (15.9 million), compared to almost 17 million (16.8 million) in 2016. The three variables at play here are 1) the level of national intrigue 2) the quality of the game 3) what else is going on at the same time.
I have a feeling that while the national intrigue is afoot, there’s a chance this game won’t be as close as Fox would like it to be. The World Cup also having games while other playoff teams (Georgia and Clemson) are playing makes me think the game will likely mirror last year’s game and come in a little shy of 16M. We say 15.6 million which will beat every other game by a few million viewers this regular season.
Jay Rigdon: Let’s get crazy here: 17 million. With the way college football’s playoff race falls, this game really does feel like a de facto play-in game. Could both or neither school make it, regardless of the outcome of the rivalry? Naturally. Anything can happen, especially when a committee is involved, and especially in a chaotic year like this.
The World Cup offers a somewhat unique competition and from a ‘reach as many as possible’ point of view, Fox is somewhat unlucky that Mexico-Argentina will start at 2pm East, with Mexico being one of the few teams that could potentially break up Audience on a scale large enough to be a factor. That being said, Ohio State and Michigan have been two of the top teams all season, and I think it’s going to be a fun, close game that will see playoff intrigue and stay-at-home crowds mixed up with a holiday hangover into a big one be the end for Fox.
Kenfang: It’s going to be a big weekend for Fox. Along with the World Cup, USA-England, on Friday and NFL, New York Giants-Cowboys, on Thanksgiving, Michigan-Ohio State will draw crowds. Last year the game drew almost 16 million viewers and Fox is certainly licking its proverbial chops at the potential of getting more. With both teams going unbeaten this weekend, interest will be high.
As Jay mentioned, Mexico-Argentina on FS1 and Telemundo will draw some viewers away from Michigan-Ohio State, but I don’t think it will be enough to detract from a monster number. I will say that this game will draw 17.8 million and that will be the highest viewership of the year for college football.
Sean Keley: I certainly understand the concerns that the World Cup might take some eyes off this game, but I don’t think for a second it will make that much of a difference. As powerful as the World Cup is, I don’t think most college football fans will see anything other than a game between the states of Ohio and Michigan with implications for the Big Ten championship and college football playoffs.
While last year’s game reached 15.9 million, we’ve seen this game almost over 17 million (2016). Given that this year’s game has the added intrigue of Ohio State looking for revenge and both teams are competing for a CFP spot, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t draw an even bigger crowd than last year. Considering that the game’s competitiveness will play a role, I’ll jump in at 16.6 million to account for the small number of World Cup viewers who might otherwise have watched.
Michael Dixon: The positives are obvious – the teams are great and it’s one of the best rivalries in the sport. What are the disadvantages? One of them is the World Cup, which has already been mentioned. Another reason is that these teams might be oddly too good. Both teams lost in 2016 and 2021. In 2022 both are undefeated. Anyway, if this game is moderately close, the Wolverines and Buckeyes can both be in the college football playoff.
That said, the loser would likely need a loss to another competitor for this to happen. The most likely scenario — at least on Saturday — would be Notre Dame beating USC. And if the times of those games were reversed, that would be a bigger potential problem. But no top-eight team will play before this game and only Georgia and Clemson will be in action at any one time. That will benefit this rating. So if the game brought in just under 15.9 million last year, here we up the ante by a million – 16.9 million.
Andreas Bucholtz: While viewership will certainly be big here, I don’t think it will reach 2016’s highs of 16.8 million. One reason for this is the increased competition. The World Cup may take away some eyeballs, but more than that, the opposing CFB strength of the schedule is much better. In 2016, the only other top-25 team with a noon-kick was No. 11 Louisville, who played unranked Kentucky. This week’s other celebrity Noon kicks include #1 Georgia (vs Georgia Tech, ESPN) and #8 Clemson (vs South Carolina, ABC), as well as some interesting unranked battles like West Virginia-Oklahoma State (ESPN2) and Coastal Carolina James Madison (ESPNU). Neither of these games will come close to the Michigan-Ohio State number, but they will all draw some viewers.
The other factor that makes me think this will be an under 2016 audience is the changes in the television landscape since then. No regular-season college football game has reached 16.8 million since 2016, and three of the last five seasons have had top-viewing games well under 16.8 million, with only 2019’s LSU-Alabama (16.6 million) and last year Ohio State-Michigan (15.9 million) even within a million. We are now in a higher streaming environment where there is more on-demand and streaming-only live competition. It’s also worth noting that unlike CBS (Paramount+) and NBC (Peacock), Fox doesn’t have a standalone streaming service that makes it easy to see its local broadcast partner, so they tend to get less streaming boost than those networks. This will still be a large number, but my prediction for this is slightly above last year but well below 2016: 16 million.
Joe Lucy: I think my colleagues exaggerate the live sports competition on calendar Saturday (sorry, there’s no way you can convince me that a neutral would voluntarily choose to see an undefeated Georgia vs a Georgia Tech trying to get bowl approved against undefeated Michigan vs undefeated Ohio State) and undercut the positive attendance trends for college football this season. Last year just three games broke eight million viewers in week 13. This year we’ve had six and four of those six have surpassed the ten million mark. Since we jumped into conference play, all but two Michigan and Ohio state games that don’t air on BTN have surpassed four million viewers. It fell five games short of that mark last year.
The narrative of Michigan this season was also different than last year. In 2021, the Wolverines were not ranked until Week 3. This year they started at number 8, moved up to the top 5 after a week and have not gone since. The 2021 team could have been considered a curiosity earlier in the season. The same cannot be said for the 2022 team, which has undoubtedly been one of the best teams in the country since the start of the season.
In all of this, I take on the uncomfortable role of the optimist and say 18.1 million.