Posts Tagged ‘Woody Hayes’

Inside the Numbers: Screw the numbers, Beat Ohio (State)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013


(Bentley.umich.edu)

Michigan versus Ohio State. Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray. The greatest rivalry in all of sports. No fancy nickname or trophy is needed to enhance the rivalry’s prestige. It is known simply as “The Game,” a term that implies that no athletic competition is better, more important, or more anticipated than the one played on the gridiron between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes each year in late November.

And, yet, this year, Michigan fans are dreading the 110th edition of “The Game.” Even worse, U-M fans are apathetic about it. Yes, they still have an interest in the game’s result. But the passion and fanatical excitement that usually accompanies that interest? Gone. Or diminished, at best.

Michigan fans finally have bailed on this season. They held onto hope for as long as they could that the Wolverines could right the ship, even after the Wolverines needed incredible plays just to eke out victories against Akron, Connecticut, and Northwestern—teams with a combined 9-23 record. But after U-M blew a 14-point halftime lead against Iowa to lose its third game in four weeks, fans let go of that hope.

To see the quantitative effect, go to Stubhub.com. Ticket prices for “The Game” have plummeted this month. In the summer, the cheapest ticket one could find for this Saturday was for $232, and the average ticket cost $380.38. Those prices made Michigan-Ohio State one of the ten hottest tickets of the college football season. However, this week, prices have dropped to as low as $60 because Michigan fans are selling their tickets en masse. They would rather allow Ohio State fans infiltrate Michigan Stadium than witness firsthand the beatdown that the Buckeyes likely will impose on the Wolverines.

While Michigan fans should support the team through thick and thin, their apathy is not misguided. No matter how one tries to analyze the numbers, whether this year’s statistics, the recent history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, or how teams perform as an underdog generally, all signs point to a game that most Wolverine fans will want to forget.

The duo of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will be tough to stop, but the same could be said about Rex Kern and Jim Otis in 1969 (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Ohio State enters this Saturday as the third-ranked team in the nation. The Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 straight games and have yet to experience defeat at the helm of Urban Meyer. In contrast, the Wolverines have been trending downwards. After an 11-2 record in Brady Hoke’s inaugural season in Ann Arbor, U-M is just 15-9 the past two years and has lost four of its last six contests.

On the field, Michigan’s defense has performed well most of the season, but Ohio State’s offense will be the most explosive and dynamic it will face. OSU has scored the third-most points and gained the seventh-most yards in the nation. Further, the Buckeyes have topped 30 points in all 11 games and scored at least 40 in all but two. To make matters worse for U-M, OSU runs an up-tempo offense. The last time Michigan’s defense faced an offense that lines up at such a rapid pace, it allowed the most points it has this season—47 to Indiana.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, many consider Ohio State’s defense to be a weak link, but that description is only proper if relative to the strength of OSU’s offense. The Buckeyes are ranked #8 in scoring defense and #12 in total defense. Ohio State’s defense will seem like a sideline-to-sideline roadblock to a Michigan offense that has averaged only 10.5 points and 200.75 total yards in regulation of its last four games. To compound the Wolverines’ problems, OSU employs one of the best pass rushes in college football, registering the second-most sacks in the country. This is likely that last thing that Michigan’s offensive line—ranked 110th in sacks allowed and dead last in tackles-for-loss allowed—wants to hear.

The statistics suggest undoubtedly that Ohio State is the better team. By far. Las Vegas sports books agree with that sentiment, too, setting the Buckeyes as a 15-point road favorite against Michigan. This is not unfamiliar territory for the Maize and Blue. This is the fourth time in the past six years that Ohio State has been a double-digit favorite against the Wolverines.

The good news for Michigan is that Vegas’ betting lines do not determine the outcome of games. Rather, they indicate the quality of two teams relative to one another and help determine which games a team should win and which games a team should lose. The bad news, though, is that Michigan has not won a game against Ohio State that it was supposed to lose in a long time—since 2000 to be exact. Also, Michigan is only 2-10 against the spread versus OSU since then and has not covered the spread against its rivals from Columbus since 2006. Given this trend, the odds that Michigan will not only cover the 15-point spread, but also win outright against the Buckeyes are bleak.

Additionally, under Hoke, Michigan has lacked the ability to upset opponents when given the rare opportunity to do so. In the 11 games in which his team was the underdog, Michigan has won only three times for a paltry winning percentage of 27.3. The Wolverines earned those upset victories against Notre Dame and Illinois in 2011 and Northwestern this season—although, Michigan was no more than a 4.5-point underdog in each.

To be fair, Michigan is not the only team with a poor winning percentage as an underdog. Most teams struggle to win these games. Otherwise, the people employed by Vegas sports books most likely would be pursuing another profession. As the following table indicates, since 2011, all but two Big Ten teams have lost a majority of the games in which Vegas deemed them an underdog:

B1G Schools’ Records as a Favorite and an Underdog Since 2011 – By School
School Overall Record Record as a Favorite Record as an Underdog
MICHIGAN 26-11 (70.3%) 23-3 (88.5%) 3-8 (27.3%)
Illinois 13-23 (36.1%) 12-7 (63.2%) 1-16 (5.9%)
Indiana 9-26 (25.7%) 7-5 (58.3%) 2-21 (8.7%)
Iowa 18-18 (50.0%) 16-8 (66.7%) 2-10 (16.7%)
Michigan State 28-10 (73.7%) 22-5 (81.5%) 6-5 (54.5%)
Minnesota 17-19 (47.2%) 10-2 (83.3%) 7-17 (29.2%)
Nebraska 27-11 (71.1%) 24-5 (82.8%) 3-6 (33.3%)
Northwestern 20-17 (54.1%) 14-3 (82.4%) 6-14 (30.0%)
Ohio State 29-7 (80.6%) 25-3 (89.3%) 4-4 (50.0%)
Penn State 23-13 (63.9%) 19-4 (82.6%) 4-9 (30.8%)
Purdue 14-23 (37.8%) 11-2 (84.6%) 3-21 (12.5%)
Wisconsin 28-11 (71.8%) 27-5 (84.4%) 1-6 (14.3%)

However, not all underdogs are the same. Small underdogs have a significantly better chance to win than an underdog projected to lose by double digits. This should not be groundbreaking to most. The following table provides, since 2011, how often Big Ten underdogs have won based on the value of the spread:

B1G Schools’ Records as an Underdog Since 2011 – By Spread Value
0.0 to +3.0 +3.5 to +7.0 +7.5 to +10.0 +10.5 to +14.0 +14.5 or More
22-21 (51.2%) 9-34 (20.9%) 8-25 (24.2%) 1-17 (5.6%) 2-40 (4.8%)

There have been three different types of Big Ten underdogs recently. First, teams that were an underdog by a field goal or less actually have won more often than they lost. Second, teams that were an underdog by more than field goal but no more than 10 points won just more than one-fifth of their games. Michigan has been no exception under Hoke. U-M is 2-2 in games in which it was a three-point underdog or less, 1-5 in games in which it was a 3.5-point to 10-point underdog.

The third type, which unfortunately applies to Michigan this Saturday, consists of teams that were projected to lose by more than 10 points. These teams win outright only once in a blue moon. Since 2011, these underdogs have won only three times in 60 chances. Here are those three monumental upsets:

B1G Underdogs (10.5 Points or More) that Won Outright Since 2011
Date Underdog Opponent Spread Score
Oct. 29, 2011 Minnesota Iowa +14.5 22-21
Nov. 5, 2011 Northwestern Nebraska +17.5 28-25
Oct. 19, 2013 Minnesota Northwestern +12.5 20-17

This is only the sixth time since at least the mid-1990s—and likely much earlier than then—that Michigan has been this type of underdog. In that span, the Wolverines have pulled off the shocking upset only once, but it was not under the direction of Hoke. Instead, it occurred in Lloyd Carr’s final game as Michigan’s head coach, when the Wolverines beat Urban Meyer- and Tim Tebow-led Florida, 41-35, in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, despite being a 10.5-point underdog.

Nevertheless, this was not the only time that Maize and Blue pulled off such a big upset. The 2008 Capital One Bowl may be fresher in the minds of Michigan fans, but the other one was slightly more notable. On November 22, 1969, the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor with a then-school-record 22-game winning streak to play Michigan. Prior to that year, OSU had beaten U-M in 11 of the past 15 games of the rivalry, including a 50-14 rout in 1968. Very few outside the U-M locker room, if any, expected Michigan, a 17-point underdog, to beat a team considered by some at the time to be the best college football team in the history of the sport.

It will take a monumental effort to pull off what the 1969 team did (Bentley)

The rest is history. Michigan manhandled Ohio State for all 60 minutes, relying on seven OSU turnovers en route to a 24-12 victory, which was coined by ABC play-by-play announcer Bill Flemming as “the upset of the century.” The historic upset sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl, prevented Ohio State from clinching its second straight national championship, and sparked the legendary Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. It is regarded by many as the most important win in Michigan football history.

So what does this mean entirely for the 2013 Michigan football team with “The Game” only three days away? It means that the Michigan fan base does not believe the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that the statistics do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that Vegas sports books do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes.

Guess what? They are all probably right. The odds that the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes are slim to none.

So despite the fact the author of this column has preached for weeks that the truth lies within the numbers, the Michigan players need to walk out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel at noon this Saturday and yell collectively, “Screw them! Screw the numbers!” They need to remember 1969. They need to remember that, although they may not be as talented as that 1969 Michigan team, the Wolverines have stunned the Buckeyes before as a double-digit underdog. They need to remember that history has a tendency to repeat itself.

And, most importantly, they need to #BeatOhio.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Ohio State

  1. This Saturday will be the third straight game that Michigan will be an underdog. Two weeks ago, U-M was a 2.5-point underdog against Northwestern, and, last week, it was a six-point underdog to Iowa. This is the first time since the final three games of the 2010 season against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Mississippi State that the Wolverines have been an underdog in three consecutive contests.
  1. Both Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor added interceptions to their season totals. Countess became the 14th Wolverine to pick five passes in a season—the most by a U-M player since Todd Howard intercepted six passes in 2000. Taylor’s fourth interception meant that Michigan has two players with at least four picks in the same season for the first time since 1998.
  1. As this section has mentioned almost weekly, Jeremy Gallon has been climbing up Michigan’s receiving lists. Gallon has 1,109 receiving yards this season, needing only 66 yards on Saturday to have the second-most, single-season total in school history. In addition, Gallon and Devin Funchess have 1,795 combined receiving yards in 2013. If they add 262 more to that total by season’s end, they will be the most prolific single-season receiver duo in U-M history.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

We played like we should have all season – with emotion

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013


There isn’t much hope for Saturday’s game against Ohio State, unless of course it’s hoping for a miracle. Michigan is near the bottom of the Big Ten Legends Division, having only the poor Wildcats of Northwestern beneath them. Going into Saturday the Maize and Blue are looking pretty downtrodden and the gridiron cry for this week seems to be ‘Let the opposition be merciful and our potential be miraculously fulfilled.’

Will it happen? Well, it’s not impossible.

Two decades ago, Michigan played the Bucks and came away with an improbable win. Going in they were 6-4 – not exactly an impressive or fear-inducing number for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. But when the game clock expired on that cold November day the score read 28-0 and team with the goose egg was Ohio State. The Wolverines had pulled off a stunner.

Can the 2013 team pull off such a victory? They’re 7-4 and the Buckeyes are third in the nation. So at the first glance the circumstances are similar to those in ’93.

Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 105 yards in the first half of the 1993 game (AP photo)

The coach of our rival all those years ago? John Cooper, the man who is remembered not for his worthy credentials on the field, but for his inability to beat ‘That Team Up North’.

Urban Meyer isn’t likely to suffer such infamy, though time will tell. For all we know, this could be the beginning of the reverse of fortune for Michigan in this time-honored rivalry. But if it is, going by the results of the early ’90s game, the Wolverines are going to have to put forth an excellent defensive game.

Four interceptions helped to lift the home team over their highly touted opponent that day, as well as an impressive 100-yard game by Tyrone Wheatley in only two quarters. It also helped that Ohio State used two different quarterbacks, and the one that Cooper stuck with saw his passes in the hands of Michigan defenders about as often as his teammates’.

Will Braxton Miller, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions, make the same poor decisions and give up the football? It could happen. But what’s more likely is that the problems Michigan has faced all year will not be washed away by the fervent and inspired play of their defense.

Devin Gardner’s touchdown to interception ratio is 17:11. The Wolverines are 100th in the nation in rushing. The ’93 Buckeyes? Their rushing game was nearly as ineffective and led to situations where they were forced to pass. Being transparent and passing poorly, Ohio State suffered.

This year however, the Buckeyes are third in the nation in rushing yards, and it’s unlikely that they will make a mistake like accidentally downing the ball on a punt near their own red zone. But stranger things have happened in football than an underdog victory.

I think then-head coach Gary Moeller said it best at the time: “It was probably our lack of success during the season that helped in our victory. We played like we should have all season – with emotion.”

If Michigan can do that, maybe, just maybe they’ll be play an outstanding game and redeem the season.

They were passionate enemies to be sure

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


Woody was the titan from the Buckeye state, and Bo a protégé working his way up the ranks, but now the two are synonymous with one of the most touted rivalries in all of football, and one that is as zealous as it is old. It started in the 1800s in a bitter dispute over the state boundary then known as the Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the territory for themselves, each sending troops to defend it. And while no blood was shed over the matter the clash remained a sore point in the history of the states that neither particularly cared to dissolve into goodwill. Ohio was conceded the portion of land, and Michigan was compensated with a much larger, but also much more remote piece of property now known as the Upper Peninsula.

Despite being bitter rivals, Bo and Woody held a tremendous amount of respect for one another

But it would be sixty years before the two states would herald the two teams that would draw such accented hatred for one another. In 1897, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes faced off for the first time, and after World War I would continue to play each and every year until the saga was built on more than a half century of fervent clashes. No one could have guessed, however, that the matchup would achieve the status of an ongoing war, and that it would have its very own Benedict Arnold.

Bo Schembechler had worked under Woody Hayes for several years at Ohio State when his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, asked him to be the head coach of its football program. Woody, not wanting to see him go, told him that he would assume the role under the helm after he had retired, a date which he thought would roll around in a handful of years. But Bo didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and packed his bags and headed south to what would become a stepping stone to his greatest achievement, and a role that would cement his status in football lore.

In 1969 an Ohio man was crowned the sovereign head of Michigan football to the sound of a thousand freshly stacked papers headlined, “Bo Who?”.  A rather lackluster start for what would embed itself into Wolverine and Buckeye history alike in a few short months.

Coming into the 1969 game Michigan was still licking its wounds from the year before, as it is naturally hard to console any embarrassment caused to the ego without being given a shot to redeem the thing that precipitated it. In the case of Bo’s first team it was the memory of the outrageously unsympathetic two point conversion attempt made by Hayes when his Buckeyes were up 50-14 very late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that the extra points weren’t converted, and it surely didn’t help that in the aftermath Woody is said to have replied upon being asked about his decision that he went for two “because I couldn’t go for three.” The attempt was one aimed at humiliation, and it served its purpose. Thus it was with the smell of fall lingering in the air, and a season of reminders of what had been a spit in the face to a down and out opponent, that the Wolverines had come to face their shot at revenge. The enemy however, had only gotten stronger.

Bo bested his mentor in their first meeting in 1969, setting off the Ten Year War

Arriving at the gates of the Big House, the Buckeyes were an impressive force having won 22 straight games and averaging more than 500 yards of offense. If Michigan was to beat the Scarlet and Gray they were going to have to play as they had in the four games leading up to the meeting in which they scored an average of 45 points. Needless to say they were underdogs. Yet they were also the best kind, those with immense potential and an outlet to prove it.

There were over a hundred thousand fans packed into the stadium that day to see student face off against teacher, and they were treated to a show. Ohio State ran the kickoff back close to the mid-field line and continued to march down to just outside the ten before coming upon a fourth and two. They went for it, the refs marked it, and it was short. Michigan’s ball, but they did nothing.

The Buckeyes put up the first points of the game but missed the point after. Michigan matched the score and put the ball through the uprights. Not to be outdone, Ohio State scored again, and again cannot convert the two-point conversion. The Wolverines were not to be discouraged and put up a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead. On their next possession they ran the punt back to Ohio State’s doorstep and scored two plays later. Then, on their last possession before halftime, they attempted a field goal. It was good. 24-12 Michigan at the half.

And so it stays, the crowd counting down to the victory of the century and the dawning of what would become one of the greatest decades in football for the two programs. It was the era of the Big 2, and the Little 8. The series went back and forth until 1974 when Ohio State won twice in a row before losing in three straight matchups to the Wolverines. The pupil/mentor rivalry couldn’t last forever though and Woody’s angry foul at the 1978 season ending bowl game against Clemson, when he hit an opposing player on the chin after an interception looked to seal the win for the Tigers, also sealed his fate. He resigned as head coach shortly after, but Bo continued to lead the Wolverines for another eleven years until he retired.

They were passionate enemies to be sure, but they also held a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Not feeling well, Hayes insisted on delivering an introduction speech for Schembechler at a banquet in Dayton. He did, and passed away the next day. Bo, not to be outdone in regards to the man he so revered and the rivalry he loved so much, passed away the day before the first-ranked Buckeyes hosted the second-ranked Wolverines in 2006.

While Ohio State triumphed that night it was evident by the signs hoisted in the air by sworn enemies that both sides grieved the loss of a coach who had cared so deeply, and had been so instrumental in making the rivalry what it was. Because the truth of the matter is that as much as Michigan hates Ohio State, and as much as the feeling is reciprocated, both teams want to face the other at its best. They want the game not to mean something. They want it to mean everything.

What stands now is the opportunity for the rivalry to be reinstated after two decades of lopsided streaks, the Cooper era, and then the late Carr-Rodriguez debacle. Can Hoke and Meyer bring The Game to the height of its glory, and perhaps a few back-to-back installments to make things doubly interesting? Surly, this can’t be asking too much. Not for the fans who cheer year in and year out, who scold those who don’t believe that ten seconds is enough time to make a come back, and who hate the sound of the silence after a loss just as much as the ecstatic cries from the other side after a win. A true rivalry is about history, and all of those who tune in each game day to see whether today is the day for it.

Back to the way it was: Ohio State-Michigan feels like it used to

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in Columbus, both undefeated. Two titans with an unrivaled history found themselves in what was dubbed by the national media “The Game of the Century.” The Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship game were at stake. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight fight, but in the end, the scoresheet went in Ohio State’s favor.

The day before, the great patriarch of Michigan football, Bo Schembechler, had passed away, and along with him metaphorically went the program. Michigan went to Pasadena on New Years Day and got thumped by USC.

Bo's passing shook the rivalry and the Michigan program

Bo’s understudy, Lloyd Carr, decided to stick around for one more year. After all, he had a senior, fourth-year starting quarterback and running back, the eventual first overall NFL Draft pick at left guard, and a talented receiving corps. Who could blame him for giving it one last go-around? But a shocking loss to Appalachian State started the season, followed by a humiliating drubbing by Oregon and the Michigan program that had spent most of the previous season looking unbeatable had now lost four straight. The program that had seemed unshakeable for over 40 years was now suddenly lost without its figurehead.

The Wolverines rebounded with eight straight wins before dropping the final two to Wisconsin and Ohio State. In Carr’s swan song, Michigan faced a heavily favored Florida squad coached by Urban Meyer who relied heavily on his star quarterback. Carr pulled out all the tricks in the bag, using an offense almost foreign to the Michigan faithful and beat Meyer’s Gators.

Carr’s retirement a year after Bo’s passing signaled the end of Michigan football as we knew it and college football’s greatest rivalry suffered along with it. Ohio State beat Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 over the three years that followed while Michigan was guided by an outsider who many felt never truly understood the importance of the rivalry.

And so it was only fitting that it would take a Bo disciple to right the ship. Brady Hoke immediately returned the program to what it was like under Bo and followed in Bo’s footsteps by beating Ohio State in his first season. It ended Ohio State’s seven game winning streak over Michigan, but the Buckeyes were going through some troubles of their own. The great tattoo scandal sent Jim Tressel packing and left the Bucks headless last season, but led the man who was on the losing end of the final game of the old Michigan era to become the new head man in Columbus.

All he has done in his rookie season is not lose a game. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, OSU is ranked fourth in the AP poll and could conceivably be crowned national champions by the writers upon season’s end. Michigan faced a much tougher non-conference schedule which eliminated any national title hopes, but still holds hopes of a Big Ten title. And that’s just the way it should be: title hopes on the line, dreams either made or dashed.

Tim Biakabutuka's record performance ruined OSU's perfect season in 1995 (Larry E. Wright)

It’s the way it was so often throughout the past few decades. Something was always on the line, and more often than not, it was that way for both teams. The season-ending battle truly was the one game season.

Six times in the past 19 matchups, at least one of the two has entered The Game undefeated. Saturday marks the seventh and Michigan will be looking to do what it has done three times since 1993: hand the Buckeyes their first loss.

In 1993, OSU entered with a 9-0-1 record, it’s only non-win a 14-14 tie at Wisconsin. Michigan was just 6-4 with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Wolverines played spoiler with a resounding 28-0 win in what Ohio State head coach John Cooper called “by far the most embarrassing game I’ve been associated with in college football.” Tyrone Wheatley gashed the Buckeyes for 105 yards and Todd Collins played an efficient game. The defense picked off the Buckeyes four times and Michigan ended Ohio State’s 16-game unbeaten streak and hopes of an outright Big Ten title and handed the Bucks their first shutout since 1982.

Two years later, in 1995, Ohio State visited Ann Arbor with a 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Michigan was just 8-3. A Buckeye win would give them the Big Ten title and likely a national championship pending the Rose Bowl result. But yet again, Michigan played spoiler. Prior to the game, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn mouthed off to the media that Michigan was nobody. But when the teams took to the field, Tshimanga Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards, the most an Ohio State defense had ever given up to a single back as Michigan soared to a 31-23 victory. Once again, Cooper issued a strong statement, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life as I am right now.”

Charles Woodson helped keep Michigan's perfect season intact against OSU in 1997

The following season, Michigan traveled to Columbus to face yet another unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State squad. Michigan was 17-point underdogs and this time, Cooper kept his players from speaking to the media in order to prevent any bulletin board material. But Michigan didn’t need it. Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, but wouldn’t score again. Michigan had to turn to Brian Griese due to an injury to starter Scott Dreisbach and he threw a 68-yard touchdown to Tai Streets. Kicker Remy Hamilton added a pair of field goals to give Michigan the 13-9 win. Following the game, it was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson who did the talking, saying, “It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, ‘this is why I didn’t go to Ohio State’. I wanted to win at Michigan.”

In 1997, it was Michigan that carried the undefeated season into The Game. At 10-0 and ranked first in the nation, Michigan hosted the 9-1, fourth-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line – either Michigan won it outright or the two shared it – and for Michigan, the national title was at stake. Michigan prevailed 20-14 on the heels of a great all-around performance by Woodson and advanced to the Rose Bowl where the Wolverines beat Washington State and captured the national title.

In 2002, Ohio State once again brought an unblemished record into the matchup. At 12-0, and ranked second, Ohio State needed a win to capture the Big Ten and advance to the BCS National Championship game. Michigan was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Iowa. The Buckeyes held on, intercepting a John Navarre pass near the end zone to win 14-9 and eventually won the national title.

This Saturday, the rivalry has the ferver it did back then. Michigan needs a win and a Nebraska loss to advance to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win to complete an undefeated season. The only thing holding the game back from receiving all of the national spotlight is the sanctions Ohio State is currently facing, keeping the Buckeyes from being able to win the Big Ten and play for the national title. But on the field, the two teams will battle it out just like the good old days and Michigan will hope to ruin Ohio State’s dream season for the fourth time in the last 20 years.

The man who has resurrected Michigan’s program with the Bo-like approach now faces off with the man who has transformed the Buckeye program. It has all the makings of a new “ten-year war” like the one Bo and Woody Hayes once fought with both programs at the top of their games. Most importantly, the game matters again. It’s back to the way it was.

Urban Warfare

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011


In the aftermath of the Jim Tressel saga back in March, I wrote that what happened to Ohio State wasn’t good for the rivalry. Obviously, a blatant disregard for the rules had to be punished and the dismissal of Tressel was the right thing to do, and further NCAA sanctions should be handed down. But the fact that our bitter rivals went on so long with such a culture of corruption, althewhile dominating the rivalry, tarnishes what happened on the field during that period.

Urban was named Ohio State head coach on Monday

The rivalry is at its best when it is as it’s always been: the best two teams in the Big Ten slugging it out at season’s end for the conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Or even if both teams aren’t dominant, one having a realistic shot at ruining the other’s season with an upset.

As has been the case throughout the years, the teams are at their best when coached by a man who not only gets the rivalry, but has the personality to fuel it. For Ohio State, Tressel was that man. From the time he stepped foot on campus, he made it known that beating Michigan was the chief priority. That he was brash enough to exclaim it at halftime of a Buckeye basketball game endeared him to Buckeye faithful from the start.

When Tressel was forced out amid scandal in March, co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was thrust into the interim head coaching position. He may have been an up-and-comer, but he wasn’t ready for the job. His questionable coaching decisions (saving all three timeouts at the end of a still-winnable game against Miami) and general lack of polish (never seemed to give much focus on Michigan) painted the perception that he was in over his head and it did nothing to help the rivalry. In his defense, he was just a stop-gap to keep the seat warm until Tressel’s successor could be found. If he could pull off a good season, great; if not, he’s not the long term answer anyway.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith knew he had to make a big splash for Tressel’s replacement, not only to appease the salivating fanbase, but to perhaps save his own job. On Monday, that big splash, which was rumored over a week ago, hit like a tidal wave with the announcement of former Florida head coach Urban Meyer as the next head coach at Ohio State.

In many ways, the Tressel saga may have worked out to OSU’s benefit in the long run. While Tressel dominated the Big Ten, he routinely struggled in bowl games against SEC competition. Meyer should be able to recruit well enough nationally to fit with his spread offense and compete on a national scale. That is, if he can handle the return to the rigors of coaching – the reason he retired from Florida little more than a year ago.

As a Michigan fan, I hope he does. His prestige and previous success are a welcome addition to the rivalry and could be the final piece to another legendary string of Michigan-Ohio State battles.

Like Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, who got his first head coaching job at Ball State, Meyer started his career at Bowling Green (after serving as a tight ends and wide receivers coach at Ohio State from 1986-87). One may remember the last pair of UM-OSU head coaches who started off in the Mid-American Conference: Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes.

Michigan is 1-0 against Urban, having beaten him 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl (photo from the Orlando Sentinel)

While the rivalry has always been strong, those two are widely credited with building it into what it is today. Their “Ten Year War” from 1969-78 was a brutal slugfest year-in and year-out, made personal by the fact that Bo had coached under Woody at Miami of Ohio. Because of that, Bo cemented beating Ohio as Michigan’s main goal each season, and Woody did likewise. That was handed down to Moeller and Carr, Cooper and Tressel before falling a little bit out of style under Rodriguez and Fickell.

Hoke took the Michigan job last January without even discussing a salary. As he said in his introductory press conference, “I promise you we would have walked to the University of Michigan.” He reaffirmed OSU’s position in Michigan’s minds from day one, referring to the Buckeyes simply as “Ohio,” and talking about them “a thousand times more” than Rodriguez did, according to center David Molk. The team ended every team meeting with “Beat Ohio.” It remains to be seen whether Meyer will follow suit, but he does have the Ohio State background, having served as an assistant coach there in the late 1980s.

Michigan has had success against Meyer, and having him in the scarlet and grey should be an interesting dynamic for as long as he resides in Columbus. In the 2008 Capital One Bowl, a 8-3 Michigan squad upended Meyer’s 9-2 Florida Gators, even with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at the helm. It was, ironically, a glorious sendoff for the retiring Lloyd Carr. In that game, Michigan piled up 524 yards of offense.

Another connection Michigan has with Meyer is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was Meyer’s DC in 2005-07 before leaving for the same position with the Baltimore Ravens. Mattison helped Florida attain the nation’s 9th-best defense in 2005, 6th in 2006, and 41st in 2007. His defense also captured the 2006 National Championship. The argument can be a two-way street, as to who has the advantage; Mattison for knowing Meyer’s offensive gameplan or Meyer for knowing Mattison’s defensive schemes. But regardless, an advantage Michigan does have in that respect is Mattison’s recruiting prowess. It was Meyer who said of Mattison, “He’s not only one of the best defensive coordinators in America, but also the best recruiter in college football.”

Meyer’s name will certainly help Ohio State land top recruits, especially in the talent-rich state of Florida, but it shouldn’t take much of a chunk out of Michigan’s recruiting pie. The combination of Hoke’s major focus on the state of Ohio and Mattison’s ability to sell recruits especially on the defensive side of the ball, contrasted with Meyer’s national prestige should help get both Michigan and Ohio State back to their rightful spot at the top of the Big Ten.

So as Michigan fans, let’s welcome Meyer to Ohio State and prepare for another exciting period of college football’s greatest rivalry. And in doing so, we will carry momentum into Columbus next November and welcome him to the Big Ten in style.

GROWING GAINS: How I grew to hate Ohio State

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


One week in mid-November makes us obsess a little bit more than all the others: Ohio State week, or Buckeye week, or Hate week. Whatever you want to call it, we spend more time during the week longing for Saturday to come, more time ragging on our family, friends, and coworkers who have the unfortunate quality of being Ohio State fans, and more time telling “a Michigan fan and Ohio State fan walked into a bar…” jokes.

So I’ll spend a little more time this week writing about all things Michigan and Ohio State related. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving making this a two-day work week! I’ll publish an article every day this week, the schedule as follows:

Monday: Wisconsin recap and Ohio State preview

Tuesday: What The Game means to me

Wednesday: Why Michigan has a chance on Saturday

Thursday: What I’m thankful for this season

Friday: Michigan-Ohio State game preview

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Michigan-Ohio State week is upon us and I find myself reflecting on what it means to me. Every Michigan fan has their own stories about how they grew to love the Maize and Blue and how the rivalry was ingrained into them as a sort of religion. But while each person’s story is different, we all share a common bond: a hatred of Ohio State.

For me, it comes from having grown up in Ohio. I became a Michigan fan because my mom, class of ’81, and grandfather, class of ’51, were Michigan grads and my parents took me to the Rose Bowl in 1983 when I was a month and a half old. Of course I was too young to know what was going on, but something captured me and brought me to the good side.

My parents moved from Arizona to Ohio when I was two years old, ensuring that I would grow up surrounded by Buckeyes.

The 1995 game in which Tim Biakabatuka gashed Ohio State for 313 yard was my first UM-OSU game

As a very young kid, before I knew what the game of football was, let alone who Bo Schembechler was, my first stuffed animal was a little yellow bear which I named “Mazie.” I took the thing everywhere I went.

Becoming a Michigan fan must have been exciting for my mom, but a sad reality for my dad, an Ohio State fan from a family of Buckeyes. For his first child, a son nonetheless, to become a Michigan fan, must have been hard, but he didn’t try to push me towards the Buckeyes. Or if he did, I didn’t know it.

As long ago as I can remember, my parents took me, and eventually, my younger brother and sisters, on an annual trip to Ann Arbor. It was where my parents had met, my dad having moved there for work after college, and my mom, three years younger than he, a student at Michigan.

I remember, as young as three, spinning the cube on campus or avoiding the “M” in the Diag. As the years progressed, and the annual fall pilgrimage continued, the memories grew fonder. The dinners at The Cottage Inn, the trips to the MDen, the walks across campus, and of course, football Saturdays.

My first trip to the Big House was for the 1995 Michigan-Ohio State game. It was my dad, my grandpa, and me, and we witnessed Tim Biakabatuka run for 313 yards against a formidable Buckeye defense, leading Michigan to a 31-23 upset win. If there was any question up until that point as to whether or not I was a Michigan fan, “Touchdown” Tim removed all doubt from my then-13-year old mind.

On many of those trips to Ann Arbor, if Michigan was away for the weekend, we would venture into the Big House and walk down to the field. Those days, the gates were open and no one stopped us from throwing the football around, acting out Desmond Howard-like catches in the endzone, kicking field goals, and pretending to be a Michigan Wolverine.

I remember walking into Crisler Arena and standing in the tunnel watching the basketball team practice. One time, an older gentleman approached me and struck up a conversation. About what, I don’t recall, but what I do remember is realizing that this man was none other than Bo Schembechler, the Michigan legend who led the Wolverines for 20 years and, along with OSU coach Woody Hayes, made the rivalry what it is today.

I was there in 2001 when Ohio State ended its 14-year losing streak in the Big House

Another time, while watching basketball practice, the head coach walked over to us and in my young, star-struck awe, I mistakenly called him George Fisher. He was, of course, Steve Fisher, the coach who guided Michigan to a National Championship in 1989 and hauled in the best recruiting class in college basketball history, the Fab Five.

In addition to the yearly trips to Ann Arbor, I also went with my dad to an Ohio State road game every year. He made it one of his goals to visit every Big Ten stadium, and since I was his oldest kid, he took me along. Of course, I always wore my maize and blue, which didn’t sit well with the Buckeye fans. One year in Indiana, while walking down the steps to our seats, an adult Ohio State fan reached out and knocked my hat off. Granted, it wasn’t as bad as the Cleveland Browns fan tackling the eight-year-old Jets fan a couple weeks ago, but still, who does that to a kid? As if I needed any more reasons not to be a Buckeye, that was it.

I remember, in 1997, sitting in an Ann Arbor sports bar watching the “Judgment Day” game between Michigan and Penn State. It would all but wrap up a Rose Bowl berth and I insisted on buying a rose to clench between my teeth like Charles Woodson as we walked around campus that afternoon.

It was a great year to enter high school, with Michigan coming off a National Championship. I was one of just a handful (if that) of Michigan fans in the school, an hour west of Columbus. All of my friends were Buckeyes and they always let me know it.

My birthday is Nov. 17, so that makes the Michigan-Ohio State game that much bigger every year. I came to expect my locker getting decorated in scarlet and grey each year while I was in class. At the time, I didn’t mind because I knew that when the following Monday rolled around, I would be the one with the bragging rights once again. It was the same sort of pride that Ohio State fans must have right now.

On the morning announcements, they would blast Ohio State’s fight song or “Hang on Sloopy” each day leading up to the game, but then on the Monday after, I would persuade them to play “The Victors,” much to the dismay of 99 percent of the student body.

My freshman year of college, I found a girl who had a friend at Michigan that sold me two tickets to the 2001 Michigan-Ohio State game for $100. I took my dad and we sat in the Michigan student section and I suffered my first heartbreak in the Big House as Ohio State broke out to a 23-0 lead and Michigan lost despite a furious comeback.

In 2006, I bought tickets on Craigslist from an Ohio State fan for The Game, which was dubbed “the Game of the Century,” between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan. Both were undefeated and the winner was headed to the BCS National Championship. I couldn’t find just a single ticket, so I bought two, knowing that I had no one to go with. My dad wanted to watch the game at home and my Michigan friends didn’t have the money to pay for a ticket at the time.

I was right there in the student section for the 2006 "Game of the Century"

When I met the guy in a coffee shop in Columbus, I wore an Ohio State hat, the one and only time I’ll ever do that, because he was adamant that he sell the tickets to a Buckeye fan. Sucker.

I stayed with a friend on campus and we tailgated with some friends the morning of the game, but they went back to their apartment to watch the game. I was heading into the Horseshoe alone, clad in maize and blue, with seats in the OSU alumni section.

I befriended a Michigan fan on my way into the stadium, who happened to have tickets in Michigan’s student section. Once we got through the gates, he let me borrow his ticket to get me into the section so I was among friends in hostile territory. I ended up four rows from the field in the corner of the endzone.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t end well, and I was left to walk back across campus, a lone wolf in enemy clothing. By some miracle, I didn’t get hit with one of the many full cans of beer that were chucked my way from fraternity rooftops. And thanks to Buckeye drunkenness, I was able to get away from the brahs that tried to chase after me.

Each of those experiences only cemented why I’m a Michigan fan and why I dislike Ohio State. While I love my family and friends who happen to be diseased enough to be Buckeye fans, I hate the school and want nothing more than to see them lose.

This year takes on added significance for me since it’s being played over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll be with my mom’s side of the family in Tennessee, my mom being the only one of which who is a Michigan fan. The rest are Ohio State grads. It will be my first time actually watching The Game with them and a win by the boys in blue would make for the perfect Thanksgiving.

My first child is on the way in March. It’s a girl, and I know I’ll have the same battle as my parents did to bring her up as a Michigan fan. My wife is a Notre Dame fan, so she’ll try to sabotage her fandom, but I’m thankful for my mom doing that to me, so if that’s what happens, then so be it as long as my dad doesn’t get revenge and turn her into a Buckeye.

I’m sure you have stories just like these, stories of how you became a Michigan fan and how your hatred for Ohio State grew. So while we probably don’t know each other, we’ll be family on Saturday as Michigan goes for an upset that could turn a lot of young kids into Michigan men (and women).

Go Blue!

Transforming THE Game into a Game; It Was Fun While it Lasted

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


First of all, please accept my apologies for the last three weeks with no new content. Life has a way of getting in the way of things and this time I certainly can’t complain. In the span of a week, I started a new (and much more enjoyable) position at work which has required a lot of travel, my wife and I got a dog, and we found out we are expecting our first child this coming March.

So I hope you can understand the lack of content as of late. That being said, I am going to discontinue the opponent preview series since at this point I would have to post a new one every day until the first game and I’d rather focus on Michigan-related content leading up to kickoff.

So let’s talk about a topic no one else in the world has covered: the impending announcement about the new Big Ten and what will happen to The Game. You know, the annual season-ending game between Michigan and Ohio State, not that it’s a big deal or anything.

My stance is much like the rest of the Michigan and Ohio State fan bases – that The Game should remain the last week of the regular season and that if two divisions are necessary, Michigan and Ohio State should be in the same division, though I would prefer no divisions.

Michigan and Ohio State have played the final game of the season since 1935

Michigan and Ohio State have played the final game of the season since 1935

There are times when changing to keep up with the times is a good thing but there are also times when respecting tradition is the way to go. In this case, tradition has to trump modernity.

The Game is what it is because it hasn’t become watered down and or turned into just another game. It’s arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports and no doubt the best rivalry in college football, but much of the mystique is cultivated from the entire season building up to that moment. The moment with the outright Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. The moment that can salvage an otherwise down season by playing spoiler and keeping the other from winning the Big Ten title and making the trip to Pasadena.

More times than not, something is on the line when the two teams meet in mid-November. Often, the game ends up serving as the Big Ten championship, and that’s the way it should be.

If The Game is moved to October, as has been rumored, the players, coaches, and fans will still be excited about the game, but the entire meaning of the game will be lost. It will become just another game, preceded by one opponent and succeeded by another. The Big Ten title won’t be on the line, nor will a trip to the Rose Bowl. Instead of being rewarded with a trip to Pasadena, the winner could get the “opportunity” to travel to Bloomington to face Indiana the following week. Woo hoo!

Imagine sitting in a movie theater watching the latest blockbuster thriller and midway through the movie finding out the outcome and then having to sit through the rest of the drama. Or reading a book and finding out the main character saves the world midway through, but then having to read the rest of the boring dialogue.

The proponents of changing The Game say it opens the door to the two teams meeting again in the new Big Ten championship game, which will be played at a neutral site, beginning next season in Indianapolis. Sure it could happen, but this is college football, folks, not the NFL. Teams should only meet once a year, whether it’s Michigan-Ohio State or Indiana-Purdue. You might as well have every team in the conference play twice during the regular season – once at home, once away – and then advance to a playoff to decide the Big Ten champion. Let’s just wipe away all remnants of tradition from The Game while we’re at it.

Bo and Dr. Strangehayes routinely squared off in mid-November for the Big Ten title

Bo and Dr. Strangehayes routinely squared off in mid-November for the Big Ten title

Even if Michigan and Ohio State did meet again in the Big Ten championship game (which, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, would have only happened three or four times in the past 17 seasons) it would water down the rivalry much like Duke-North Carolina in basketball. As stated earlier, the mystique of the rivalry comes from getting only one shot to beat your archrival.

New Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon doesn’t agree.

“One of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice,” Brandon said.

Sure his credentials carry a lot more weight than mine, since he’s the current AD and played in the rivalry at Michigan under Bo Schembechler. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any more right or that playing the same team twice in a season is necessarily a good thing.

What happens if Michigan wins the regular season matchup and finishes the Big Ten schedule 9-0, while Ohio State finishes the Big Ten schedule 8-1 and wins in the Big Ten championship meeting? Both teams could then have legitimate arguments for deserving the title with identical records and even head-to-head, yet Ohio State would be crowned Big Ten champions. Maybe Ohio State had one more loss during the regular season, but didn’t have to play a very strong Nebraska team that finished 8-1 in the same division as Michigan. Does that mean Ohio State is the deserving champion? Absolutely not.

In a perfect world, here’s how I think the Big Ten should be run once Nebraska is added in 2011:

First, don’t split into two divisions.* Keep the Big Ten a 12-team conference and institute an 11-game conference schedule with two non-conference games instead of four.

Non-conference games are fun when you have matchups like Michigan-Notre Dame or Ohio State-Miami, but do we really need each team to play three Mid-American Conference schools in one season? Let each Big Ten team play one cupcake to shake off the cobwebs and also one big non-conference game (like Michigan-Notre Dame), and then dive right into the conference schedule.

The Snow Bowl of 1950 never would have happened if the game were played mid-season

The Snow Bowl of 1950 never would have happened if the game were played mid-season

It would add one week to the regular season, which most likely will never happen since preserving academics is one of the arguments the NCAA has against a college football playoff, but having an 11-game conference schedule ensures that no team will have a competitive advantage because of an unbalanced schedule.

Currently, each Big Ten team gets to avoid two Big Ten opponents each year. Sometimes it works in Team A’s favor with both Michigan and Ohio State being left off the schedule, but Team B avoids Indiana and Illinois. Team A gets the advantage of having a chance to win the conference without even facing two of the best teams.

In 2002, Iowa and Ohio State shared the Big Ten title with 8-0 conference records, but they didn’t have to play each other during the season. Ohio State ended up winning the National Championship, but what if they had played Iowa during the conference slate and lost? Iowa may have gone to the title game.

Theoretically, that would be fixed with the Big Ten championship game, but with an unbalanced schedule, what if Iowa and Ohio State both finished 8-0, but Iowa didn’t have to play Nebraska, which finished 7-1, its only loss to Ohio State? Does Iowa absolutely deserve to play in the championship game? No, because they didn’t have to face Nebraska.

Or what if they were both in the same division, similar to what happens sometimes in the Big 12? The top two teams are often in the same division but can’t even meet in the championship game.

Secondly, the Big Ten should make the last week of the regular season rivalry weekend. Michigan-Ohio State, Penn State-Nebraska, Iowa-Wisconsin, Purdue-Indiana, Illinois-Northwestern, and Michigan State-Minnesota.

Michigan State and Minnesota may not be a rivalry, but the rest are and would make for a great finishing weekend and a de facto semi-final for the championship game.

It would keep the entire regular season interesting with the weight of the schedule at the end of the season when more is on the line. Of course there would be solid mid-season matchups like Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Penn State, so the entire season leading up to the final weekend certainly wouldn’t be a letdown.

Some proponents of moving the game argue that other rivalries like Texas-Oklahoma or Florida-Florida State are played mid-season. And that’s one of the reasons they aren’t the greatest rivalry in college football. Too much is left to play for once the game has come and gone.

The Heisman can't be won in The Game mid-season

The Heisman can't be won in The Game mid-season

You need to go no further back than Oct. 11, 2008 when No. 5 Texas beat No. 1 Oklahoma 45-35 to advance to 6-0 (3-0 in the Big 12). Six weeks later, that matchup was all but forgotten when Oklahoma, which finished 7-1 in the conference, was sent to the Big 12 Championship game against 5-3 Missouri, leaving 7-1 Texas out of the picture.

That scenario was a result of the exact two things the Big Ten is on the verge of implementing: two divisions and having its cheif rivalry game between its two best teams played mid-season. If Texas-Oklahoma had been played in the final game, the winner would have gone to the championship game. Instead, even though they finished with identical records, the winner of the matchup didn’t even get a shot.

While that may be good for college football – for TV ratings, for controversy, for money – those aren’t the right reasons. Unfortunately, that’s the way the money-driven college football landscape is: a quick buck over decades of tradition.

In a perfect world, Michigan and Ohio State will always play in mid-November, when the air is chilled, snowflakes are falling, and Thanksgiving is looming. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been.

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*Currently the NCAA requires two divisions in order to play a conference championship game, so for this to happen, the rules would have to be changed.

It Was the Summer of ’69: They Came to Bury Michigan

Saturday, November 21st, 2009


There was a time when Michigan-Ohio State was all you heard about during the third week of November. It was all over the airwaves, all over the television, all over the newspapers, and all over the Internet.

*The 1969 Michigan football team hopes to be an inspiration this Saturday, photo from bentley.umich.edu

*The 1969 Michigan football team hopes to inspire another monumental upset this Saturday, photo from bentley.umich.edu

That time was not a long, long time ago. In fact, just three years ago, it was called “the game of the century” when both teams entered undefeated, ranked first and second in the nation.

This week, however, the game has been somewhat of an afterthought.

Headlines read “Once-mighty Michigan-Ohio State rivalry now just another game,” or “Ohio State-Michigan series has slipped in stature.”

Sportscenter teased a segment of Kirk Herbstreit talking about the weekend’s big Oregon-Arizona match-up.

Staring a sixth straight loss to Ohio State and a second straight losing season in the eye, Michigan hasn’t done its part to dispel the notion that the rivalry is dead.

Cheer up, Michigan fans. And lighten up, national media. Remember that things were the other way around last decade when Michigan went 10-2-1 against Ohio State from 1988-2000.

Ohio State wasn’t exactly in the doldrums that Michigan finds itself in at the moment, but maybe that makes Michigan’s run all that more impressive.

But it doesn’t mean the rivalry isn’t as big as it used to be.

Whether Michigan has the right coach or not, Michigan fans better show up loud and in full support of him and the rest of the boys in maize and blue on Saturday. Because there’s a group of Michigan men in Ann Arbor this weekend that know a thing or two about pulling off a major upset.


In 1969, Bo Schembechler’s first season as Michigan head coach, Michigan hosted the undefeated, first-ranked Buckeyes, led by Woody Hayes.

Many people regarded that team as the greatest college football team of all time. It had pounded Michigan 50-14 the year before in Columbus and Hayes’ crew had a 22-game winning streak riding into the ’69 meeting.

Michigan had struggled through six losing seasons in the last 10 years and brought Schembechler in from Miami of Ohio.

Bo was an outsider. He brought a tough love coaching style to Ann Arbor in the summer of ’69 and vowed to have the most well-coached, well-conditioned team in the Big Ten. Many players jumped ship and left the team, because they were used to the old way of doing things. But Bo issued a challenge: Those who stay will be champions.

In that first season, Bo’s squad got off to a 3-2 start, including a loss to its other rival, Michigan State. It entered the Ohio State game a 17-point underdog.

In the previous year’s meeting, when Ohio State scored its final touchdown, Woody Hayes went for two. When asked why, he replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

*Bo Schembechler

*Bo Schembechler

Battered and humiliated, Michigan was hungry for revenge. And on that fateful November day in 1969, Michigan got its revenge and ushered in a new era of Michigan football. An era that spanned 40 years and ended last season when Lloyd Carr retired and Michigan athletic director Bill Martin hired the first man from outside the program since the man who began that era.

Rich Rodriguez, just like Schembechler, was brought in to resurrect a stagnant Michigan football program.

Rodriguez didn’t coach under Jim Tressel at Ohio State as Schembechler coached under Hayes, but he brought a high-octane offensive system to Ann Arbor that promises a new and exciting brand of Michigan football.

Somewhere in the past two years since Rodriguez was hired, he got portrayed as an outsider who doesn’t care for the Michigan tradition and doesn’t embrace its rivalries the way Bo and Woody and Carr and Tressel did.

Yet this week, the members of that 1969 team that pulled off that big win will be in attendance to help motivate the present squad.

Earlier in the week, leading up to the biggest game of the year, a sound was heard emanating from the practice field. That was the sound of legendary Michigan broadcaster Bob Ufer.

It was Ufer who wrote the following poem in the aftermath of that game 40 years ago from Sunday.

“They came to bury Michigan, all wrapped in Maize and Blue
The words were said, the prayers were read and everybody cried.
But when they closed the coffin, there was someone else inside!
The Bucks came to bury the Wolverines, but Michigan wasn’t dead!
And when the game was over, it was someone else instead!
Twenty-two Michigan Wolverines put on the gloves of grey,
And as Rivelli played ‘The Victors’, they laid Woody Hayes away!”

Those who stayed in 1969 became champions, just as Bo said. They won the Big Ten championship and represented the conference in the Rose Bowl.

Rodriguez’s entrance to Michigan was eerily similar to Bo’s, in a 21st Century kind of way. Players left because they couldn’t handle the demands. But some stayed. Good players stayed and endured the worst season in over 40 years. And they came back again for a senior season to try to right the ship.

Senior defensive end Brandon Graham will most likely be a first round draft pick next April, but on this day, all he cares about is capturing the magic of that ’69 team. He spoke to the team during the week in a players only meeting. You can bet he has these young guys fired up and ready to play.

*Branon Graham has become one of the best defensive ends in Michigan history

*Branon Graham has become one of the best defensive ends in Michigan history

Can Graham will Michigan to a win on Saturday and give Rodriguez his signature win? The one that ends this two year run of futility and truly ushers in the new ear of Michigan football? No one gives Michigan a chance, but it’s time to add the intrigue back to the rivalry.

The boys in the winged helmets will certainly be juiced up and ready to go. The inspiration will be there, but the problems that have plagued Michigan all season won’t go away.

Michigan must play a perfect game to win. It must hope the Terrelle Pryor from the Purdue game shows up instead of the Pryor from every game since.

If Ohio State plays anywhere near perfect, it will win easily, just like it handled Penn State and Iowa.

I’ll split the difference and say that emotion and inspiration will carry Michigan early and Michigan will hang around much of the game, but fade down the stretch.

Prediction: Ohio State 26 – Michigan 17

But hey, they said the same thing 40 years ago, so I hope I’m wrong.