A no-frills blog dedicated to Ohio State football, the Michigan rivalry,
and the ongoing melodrama that is life in the Big Ten.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Buckeye Trip to New Orleans? Let’s see what Boomer Sooner, Lloyd Carr, and John Denver’s corpse have to say about that.

Can I state the obvious? The only thing more ridiculous than viewing the Rose Bowl as a consolation prize would be falling victim to such folly twice in the same season—or worse yet, twice in a matter of three weeks. Yet here we Buckeye fans are, guilty as charged.

Just as the Buckeye Nation was coming to terms with the idea that beating Michigan, clinching the Big Ten title, and earning a trip to “The Granddaddy of Them All” wasn’t too bad of an outcome for a so- called rebuilding year, the college football world turned upside down again. First Oregon and Oklahoma lost two weeks ago, and then LSU succumbed to Darren McFadden. Throw in the Kansas loss and suddenly the Buckeyes are ranked third in the BCS, just one little upset away from a berth in the national championship game. And, once again, anything less—even a trip to Pasadena—is simply unthinkable.

At the heart of this shake up, in its blundering sort of way, stands our old rival, That Team Up North. I never knew such drama was possible in a week when neither Ohio State nor Michigan took the field, yet a simple press conference by Lloyd Carr seems to have helped get the Bucks one step closer to the national title game—and perhaps to have doomed us to disappointment at the same time.

Immediately following Carr’s announcement to retire, the media began an all out blitz on the leading candidate to fill the position, LSU’s Les Miles. After being hounded all week as to whether he would take the Michigan job—a distracting situation to say the least as evidenced by Miles’s emotional plea to lay off and let him focus on, as he so eloquently pronounced, “Ar-Kansas”—the top-ranked Tigers let down their guard just enough to be toppled by that very Ar-Kansas team; and, in so doing, put the Buckeyes a hair’s breadth away from a trip to New Orleans. I guess we’ll have to wait for next weekend to see whether LSU’s fall from grace will stand as Lloyd Carr’s parting gift to the Buckeyes or his final revenge.

Enter Oklahoma. The very team whose loss on November 17 was celebrated wildly by Buckeye fans now holds our fate in its hands.
That’s right, our hopes are pinned to a team named after a musical.
If Oklahoma beats Missouri in the Big 12 championship game this Saturday, Ohio State moves up one more notch—and Expedia and Travelocity will be flooded with Buckeye fans changing their plane tickets from Pasadena to New Orleans. All of which means Oklahoma is, for the next few days at least, the second favorite team of Buckeye fans across the nation. I, for one, am now the proud owner of a Sooner foam combination set, complete with oversized cowboy hat, coozie and giant finger. The inflatable covered wagon should be delivered to my front yard later this week.

I would suggest cheering for Pitt to beat West Virginia on Saturday, as such a scenario would also land the Bucks in New Orleans— but unless Pitt brings back Tony Dorsett for the game and West Virginia replaces Pat White with John Denver’s corpse, I’m afraid this one may not go our way.


Would it be asking too much for Ol’ Lloyd to hold another press conference, stating that the short list for his replacement now includes West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel? Could you do that for us Lloyd, for old time’s sake? It’s for the benefit of the Big Ten after all.

In all probability, we should prepare ourselves for the fact that the upset is simply not going to happen. We should expect that Missouri and West Virginia will both win next Saturday and Ohio State, despite coming unexpectedly—nay, ridiculously—close to playing for it all for the second time this season, will in the end have to settle for playing in the Rose Bowl. And we would do well to remind ourselves what a treat that actually is.

Really, we would.



Ah, screw it. Go Sooners!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks for the Memories: Now perhaps you'd like to hire my cat?

How’s everybody feeling out there this week? Pretty good? I would hope so. Me? It’s Tuesday and I’m still drunk.

I don’t know what to celebrate more: Ohio State’s fourth straight victory over “that team up north”, the release of HBO’s documentary dedicated to the storied rivalry, or Oregon and Oklahoma losing and getting the Bucks back into the national championship conversation? Any way you slice it, last week was a good one for the Buckeye Nation.

So why, then, do I feel a hint of sadness in the air, a nagging sensation that tugs at my heartstrings like a three-legged Wolverine begging to be put out of its misery? Could it be that we have some goodbyes to say?

Ah, Mike Hart, how Buckeye fans will miss you. Though you are likely saddened by your abject failure against Ohio State throughout your college years, I urge you to take comfort in the fact that you’re going to have an extraordinary pro career. How do I know this? Because you have exactly the right amount of class for the NFL. Which is to say, none. Last Saturday, I marveled at your seemingly limitless machismo. Having to be restrained at the 50-yard line prior to the game was a nice touch, but pushing Ohio State defensive back Chimdi Chekwa to the ground after a block and pounding your chest was pure gold. Anybody that can show such bravado en route to a season low 44-yard rushing effort on 21 carries is truly a special kind of stupid. Yes, you’re going to fit in with that whiny, overpaid NFL crowd just fine.

Someone with infinitely more class who I will miss is Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who resigned on Monday—and, believe it or not, I say this without the faintest hint of irony. I really am going to miss ol’ Lloyd. I watched his retirement speech on Monday from beginning to end, and I have to admit: the guy’s a good guy and, as the record shows, a helluva coach. Over the past 13 seasons he racked up five Big Ten titles, a national championship, and a win percentage that ranks up there with the best coaches in history. All of which makes the fact that Tressel beat him six out of the last seven years even more remarkable. And unfortunately for Lloyd, it is this last fact that both Michigan and Ohio State fans will dwell on for awhile. To that end, he’s become Michigan’s John Cooper—the Buckeye coach who managed just two wins over the Wolverines in thirteen long, painful seasons—which I suppose allows me to use the phrase “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy” with complete apropos.

As Ohio State fans bask in the glow of our recent victory and daydream about extending our rivalry win streak to five in a row for the first time in history, the media madness accompanying Michigan’s search for a new man at the helm has already begun. With this in mind, an interesting though disturbing trend occurs to me: new coaches have an uncanny ability to knock off their archrival in their inaugural year. Now, I don’t want to take the glow off of any Buckeye daydreams out there, but this beginner’s luck, or dogged determination to prove oneself worthy of the new position, or whatever one wants to call it has struck with alarming consistency over the past four decades. Bo Schembechler inherited a floundering Wolverine team in 1969 and promptly beat the top ranked Buckeyes his first year. Earle Bruce reciprocated when he took over for Ohio State in 1979. Gary Moeller sobered up enough to win in 1990. Lloyd Carr prevailed in 1995, and so did Jim Tressel in 2001. And in each of these inaugural match-ups, the quality of the opponent didn’t seem to matter: the 1969 Buckeyes entered The Game on a 22-game win streak and had been hailed as one of the greatest college teams of all time before losing to Schembechler. Carr’s inaugural victory came over a #2 ranked Buckeye team.

So where am I going with this? It occurs to me that next year the Bucks have a lot of firepower returning and will almost certainly be ranked high going into the last week of the season…and Michigan is going to have a new coach. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but we have to start planning now if we don’t want next season to be hijacked by some upstart overachiever in a cheap maize and blue polo.

Fortunately, I have an idea as to how we can avert such disaster. A foolproof plan, if you will. We simply need Michigan to replace Carr with the only coach who didn’t win The Game in his inaugural season over the past forty years. That’s right, Michigan needs to hire John Cooper. If Cooper doesn’t work out, I could also be satisfied with Donny Osmond, my cat (Mrs. Bigglesworth), or Charlie Weiss, though not necessarily in that order.

So enjoy your victory, Buckeye fans, but know that, even though the Big Ten season is over, there is still much to be done. Root for anyone playing teams ranked ahead of us, for one, in hopes that we might still make that title game, and, most importantly, get those petitions for Cooper circulating through the Michigan athletic department. Otherwise, be prepared to face Coach Bigglesworth next year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Here's a Thought: How about avoiding that Capital One Bowl?

Let’s knock this one out of here real fast: the Buckeyes aren’t going to play for the national championship this year.

Did the loss to Illinois stink? Absolutely. Am I going to complain about the coaching staff’s inexplicable failure to challenge an obvious fumble and thereby avert a touchdown? No. How about three interceptions thrown at inopportune moments, or a defense that had more holes than a grunge band’s wardrobe? No and no.

Why, you ask? Because I tried that, and it didn’t work.

Three hours after the game, all of my venting hadn’t changed a thing. And then it occurred to me…we Buckeye fans have become a bit spoiled. Somewhere beneath the scarlet and gray film glazed over my brain, I seem to recall that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Yet here we were ranked number one again.

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but we need to maintain some perspective here. There’s still a Big Ten championship at stake, and a berth in the Rose Bowl. When those are the consolation prizes for a rebuilding year, things are in pretty good shape for the Buckeye Nation.

Now here’s the catch: all we have to do to get those consolation prizes is beat our archrival.

Oh, and that archrival? They’re pissed. They just lost, too. In fact, one could almost say they purposefully lost. Or if they didn’t purposefully lose, exactly, they certainly didn’t put a lot of effort into winning. Can anyone tell me why Mike Hart, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, would be sitting on the sidelines watching his team lose to Wisconsin after he had been cleared by doctors to play? Or why Chad Henne came out of the game so quickly to join Hart on the sidelines for the remaining three quarters? I have a theory. It runs something along the lines of: “Wisconsin, Shmisconsin. We want to whoop Ohio State.”

So that’s what we’re up against this week. A team looking to bury the memory of a humiliating September by climbing over the Buckeyes into the Rose Bowl. A bunch of seniors who want to define their collegiate careers by finally getting that elusive win over their archrival. A coach who needs to toss a certain monkey in a Brutus suit off his back before his career comes to an almost certain close at the end of the season.

All I can say is, “ain’t it great?” If the thought of denying the Wolverines such pleasures can’t get the Buckeyes up for this game, somebody needs to check some pulses.

This is the grudge match with an edge. With the national championship no longer an issue, one could almost make the case that Michigan has the most at stake, which bodes well when considering the “team who has the most to lose usually does” tradition. Then again, history may not have much to offer in the way of predictions this year. For the first time since the Eisenhower administration, both teams will enter The Game licking wounds from a loss the previous week.

So what’s going to happen this Saturday?

Hell if I know. Though I will go so far as to make three predictions: 1) a car is going to get turned over and set on fire somewhere (Detroit doesn’t count. That’s just normal crime.), 2) Mike Hart will make an obnoxiously immature comment in the postgame interview, win or lose, and 3) the scarlet and gray film on my brain, aided considerably by several pints of Guinness, will at some point induce me to attempt Script Ohio with a handful of my friends in the living room.

Other than that, all bets are off.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Go Blue? A Guide to Unconventional Cheering (Part Two)

Okay Buckeye fans, let’s face some hard truths. If you’ve picked up any newspaper in the last two months or watched five minutes of Sportscenter, you’ll have noticed that the Big Ten as a conference is lacking a little bit of respect. For this read: it has no respect. Various analysts have referred to it as the “Little Ten”, called it “by far the weakest BCS conference” and have otherwise suggested that any team playing in the Big Ten might as well have lined up a series of Pop Warner peewee teams to play this season.

This brings us to reason number two for why Ohio State fans should root for Michigan during all but one notable week of the year: We need Michigan—and all other Big Ten teams, for that matter—to be as good as possible, year in year out.

Let’s face it. That Appalachian State loss was fun—heck, I went to Boone and bought a T-shirt—but it didn’t do much for conference credibility, especially after last year’s bowl season. When Michigan then lost to Oregon in Week 2, I watched fellow Buckeye fans celebrating with a wary eye. Already, the internal conflict had begun: as fun as it is to see our archrival humiliated, what does this mean for Ohio State?

Well, ten games into the season, it appears to mean this: Ohio State is the most doubted team in America.

Every week I read articles about how they haven’t played anybody. Never mind that just who constitutes “anybody” is a constantly morphing and ultimately self-serving concept. When the Buckeyes were 5-0, analysts said the upcoming Purdue game would be their first big test. When the Bucks easily handled the Boilermakers, rather than boost the Buckeyes’ street cred, Purdue was dubbed overrated. When the Bucks were 7-0 with games against Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan remaining, the analysts said the Bucks were just getting to the meat of their schedule. And they were. But after they handled the Spartans, the analysts dismissed that game, saying, and I’m quoting someone I don’t remember from ESPN’s College Gameday here (perhaps Mark May?), “Everyone expected the Buckeyes to be 8-0 at this point, but their first test comes next week against Penn State.”

Well, the Bucks blew out Penn State at Happy Valley, and followed that up with a three-touchdown victory over Wisconsin. But of course now those teams are dubbed overrated, and the first big test is supposed to come this week against Illinois. Do you see a pattern here? In a Big Ten that is perceived as weak, the Buckeyes can’t win respect. If they lose a game, it will instantly be hailed as the just desserts of an overrated team. If they continue to win, it’s because they’re playing a bunch of cupcakes. If Ohio State beats Illinois (who also beat both Wisconsin and Penn State) and Michigan (currently ranked 12th in the BCS), will they have gained respect? Of course not. I can hear it now: Illinois doesn’t count because, well, they’re Illinois, and Illinois always sucks—never mind their record this year. And Michigan? Well, didn’t they lose to that I-AA team earlier this season? Ah, yes, that. You see my point.

I’m not saying such Big Ten bashing is just. Not for a minute. But it’s the perception that counts. As it stands, the only way Ohio State can gain national respect this year is if it runs the table and beats an SEC or Pac-10 team in the national championship game. These are the conferences currently fulfilling the role of analysts’ darlings, and to an obviously biased degree. An example or two should suffice.

Penn State and Wisconsin, who both started the year in the top twenty, have just three losses, and those to Big Ten opponents. Rather than sending the message that the Big Ten is a tough conference, however, the analysts say that the teams were simply overrated and have dropped them completely out of the rankings. Contrast this to the SEC where six three-loss teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25, as is the Pac-10’s three-loss Cal. And remember, Cal lost to UCLA—the same UCLA that got crushed by Utah 44-6 and handed Notre Dame its only win of the season—so I don’t want to hear, oh, they were all losses to quality teams.

Analysts’ bias is leading them to confusion and even contradictions. They consider the Pac-10 a “strong” conference, yet have dubbed USC’s loss to 40-point underdog Stanford the greatest upset of all time. Here’s my question: how can losing to someone in your own conference be called the greatest upset of all time? If that’s the case, get Stanford out of your conference. Yet somehow, such a scenario doesn’t diminish the respectability of the Pac-10. It does, however, take away Michigan’s status as the victim of the biggest upset of all time—proving that, even in defeat, the analysts scorn the Big Ten.

So what’s the way out of this quagmire? Buckeye fans need Big Ten teams to win every high-profile non-conference game they play, especially bowl games. And this includes Michigan. Yes, I know it hurts. But remember, it’s all in the interest of self-preservation.

And that’s why I root for Michigan—the very team I was born to loathe—every week but one. Any Buckeye fan should be so insane.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Go Blue? A Guide to Unconventional Cheering (Part One)

Here’s a confession you won’t hear from many Buckeye fans: I root for Michigan every chance I get. Every week but one to be specific.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Appalachian State loss as much as every one else. And to be fair, my cheers are never vocal (Woody forbid!) or even very conscious. It’s more like an underlying feeling that continually, if subconsciously, suggests: victory for Michigan is good for Ohio State.

Now, before you fly off the handle and holler, “Hey man, that’s crazy talk,” I can offer two reasons for such apparent madness.

First is the old adage which so defines the rivalry, and which I cited in the last posting: namely, “the team that has the most to lose usually does.” The last thing a Buckeye team wants to face—especially a #1 ranked Buckeye team—is a desperate Wolverine team. One with absolutely nothing to lose. A rabid Wolverine, one might say, looking to claim one last victim before the season ends and somebody shoots it in the head.

Instead, we want Michigan to have as much at stake as possible, nearly as much as the Bucks in an ideal world. Consider the 2006 season, when both teams were undefeated and ranked one and two heading into the Big Game. That is the ideal set up, and result. The Buckeyes not only won the game, but in doing so denied “That State Up North” the Big Ten Championship and a shot at the national title. A textbook three-in-one victory.

Last year’s loss to the Buckeyes stung so much, Michigan stars Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long all turned down certain millions in the NFL to instead play one more year in college. Three goals guided this decision: 1) beat Ohio State (something they have yet to do in their college careers), 2) win the Big Ten, and 3) win a national championship. Well, starting 0-2 on the season with a loss to a Division 1-AA team pretty much put a damper on goal three. But goals one and two are still very much alive. If Michigan were to lose between now and the Big Game, then only goal one would remain. And it would mean more to Hart, Henne, Long and crew than ever.

Recall that, immediately following last year’s game, a hurt and confused Mike Hart, with all the maturity of a third grader who had just lost a dodge ball game at recess, stated, “If we played again it would be a whole different story,” or words to similar effect. This doesn’t say much for his sportsmanship, but it speaks volumes about how bad they want to beat the Bucks. And if a victory over the Buckeyes were the only way to salvage their season, and prove that Hart, Henne and Long weren’t complete idiots for passing up millions by foregoing last year’s draft…well, that’s a rabid Wolverine if I’ve ever seen one.

This alone should provide a compelling reason to root for “that state up north” during the regular season, even though I know how tempting it is to wish pain and humiliation on our archrival. But like a junkie satisfying his base urge with a short-term fix, such behavior might not be in the best interest of the overall organism.

Still not convinced? Tune in to the next posting for reason number two.