For the week where the letter M is quite literally X-ed out of every sign on Ohio State’s campus. Where wearing the color blue is banned. (Pretty much every day for Urban’s players, here actually.) Where Woody Hayes Drive is more than just a namesake, but a symbol of tradition and excellence and hating That Team Up North. And killing them.
Ohio State fans know what The Ten Year War is, all about The Snow Bowl, and why it was absolutely huge when Bo Schembechler passed away a day before The Game in 2006, when OSU was #1 and UM was #2. They know why a coach will never survive at either school if you can’t win The Game. They know that Jim Tressel could kick a puppy and he’d still be revered in Columbus for changing the face of the rivalry since 2001. (Don’t worry, he may be the last man on the planet who’d kick a puppy.) Notice his predecessor’s name never, ever comes up??
The Rivalry has inspired pop culture, been featured in hilarious ESPN commercials, made into documentaries and the highlight of late-night comedy shows, and even emboldened a young boy in Columbus who in 2011 named his tumor “Michigan,” and then promptly beat it.
Hate can be fun.
But for Wolverines fans, The Game has been anything but fun for over a decade. In the last 13 meet-ups, TTUN has won two times. And one of those was only because OSU’s Tressel had to resign and the Bucks had a defensive coordinator for an interim coach. Not exactly an accomplishment or one to brag about.
The dictionary defines a rival in a rivalry as:
“A person or thing that can dispute another’s preeminence or superiority.”
Well, then. I think Ohio State’s work is done here. Does anyone Up North even know what preeminence means? Oh. That’s right, they think they are the “Harvard of the West.” Well, they sure as hell can’t relate to it even if they can define it on a test.
And barring a phenomenon, act of God or natural disaster, this season will be another win for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is 10-1 overall, 7-0 in the Big Ten. They clinched the spot to represent the East Division of the conference in the B1G Title Game. And they are gunning for a final top four ranking in the College Football Playoffs poll.
Michigan is 5-6 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten. They are not going to a bowl this year. (Unless a miracle happens, and they upset Ohio State.) They spent the entire first half of the season being under fire, laughed at, embarrassing themselves, and losing. Their Athletic Director was forced to resign. Their overweight and under-winning coach, Brady Hoke, will in all likelihood be fired at the end of this season. Perhaps before the bus even makes it back over state lines after The Game.
TTUN is averaging 20.3 points per game. OSU, 44.3.
In passing quarterbacks – M’s Devin Gardner has thrown for 1,663 yards and 8 touchdowns while OSU’s J.T. Barrett has thrown for 2,658 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Leading rushers? M’s running back De’Veon Smith has 515 yards and 6 touchdowns. OSU’s Ezekiel Elliott has 1,061 yards and 8 touchdowns.
It’s a rather uneven match-up, but the Bucks need to make an Ohio Statement and win big in an in-control, dominating, style-points-laden fashion and impress the playoffs committee. I can’t wait to see what Barrett does against M – we know he’s an accurate, efficient and dangerous passer, but did you also know he’s the team’s second leading rusher? Sorry, Braxton.
A key for the Bucks – OSU has to avoid turnovers. It has allowed inferior teams like Indiana and Penn State to stay in the game this season.
Keys for M? Prayers. Lots of them. I don’t know what happened to QB Devin Gardner this year, but in the dictionary under “regress” is his picture. Where’s that big arm from last year? Why are you the King of Interceptions now? And wide receiver Devin Funchess has been, well, meh. M’s passing game ranks 113th for the season. Ouch. M needs to run the ball, because when Gardner throws bad things happen.
But hold up, wait a minute. This is The Game. This is when we (figuratively) throw out the rankings, the stats, the learnings, the common sense and the season, really. Anything can happen when two teams are playing in the 111th game of a bitter and heated rivalry, fueled on by hatred, fury, pride, perceived respect, resentment, desperation and a dash of the desire to play spoiler. And possibly even to win in the name of your ousted coach.
Which was the case in 1987, when a 5-4-1 Ohio State team rallied in the name of their just-fired head coach, the legendary Earle Bruce, to upset a heavily-favored M. Can M do that for Hoke? Do they even want to? I’m pretty certain they’d kill to be the final reason that OSU’s playoff hopes could be dashed. We’ll see, sports fans. But anything can happen in this one.
Emotions will run high before, during and after The Game, which we’ll see. Fights happen, penalty flags get thrown three-at-a-time, players get ejected, double birds get thrown. It can be dirty – like M’s players ganging up on OSU’s Marcus Hall last year – and both teams will push each other to snap, but Urban Meyer has warned his players that anyone who throws a punch is dismissed from the program. Keep it classy boys, we all know you’re better than they are.
This is the one we wait for all year. We hope M will be good and it will be an exciting match-up like 2006 was. But once again, it’s not. Perhaps a new M coach next season will bring back the competitiveness? Oh that’s right, most of the stars on this Buckeye team will be back….and more lethal than ever. Well, hopefully he’ll be a coach who is at least more clever and intelligent than to simply call Ohio State by the wrong school and think they are the ones who got the burn.
I like to picture Woody & Bo, sitting on a cloud together, watching The Game year after year. They’ve got a lot to say about what they see, and they are funny as hell. Bo said in HBO’s documentary on the rivalry that no one could understand each other the way he and Woody did. And that was pretty profound. They were raging enemies, but they were best friends, with nothing but an insane amount of respect and love for each other in the end. My eyes leak every time I watch them talk about each other. Wolverines will always hate Buckeyes, and Buckeyes will always hate Wolverines. But really, who gets us better than each other? Could there actually be a little bit of love between us all?
Naaaaaaaah! *cackling laughter* GO BUCKS!!