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and the ongoing melodrama that is life in the Big Ten.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Week One Primer: Hey Old Ball Coach, Over Here!

So it’s the opening night of college football and I find myself sitting on my couch rooting for NC State, a team I don’t remotely care about, to beat the crap out of South Carolina, a team I also don’t care about other than the fact that they’re in the SEC. And I realize what an insecure Big Ten fan I’ve become.

In the rational side of my brain, I realize this is not the SEC’s fault, though I still would like to see Steve Spurrier lose his opener and be mooned by insolent teenagers on his way home. No, I know it’s the Big Ten’s fault. Forget the biased commentators, forget the fact that the Big Ten is actually 3-3 in bowl games against the SEC over the last two years. Perception is reality, and with a handful of old-fashioned floggings on the big stage recently, perception of the Big Ten is, shall we say, not good. One might even say Bush-like.

With that in mind, it’s time to turn that perception around, and what better time to start than on the first week of the season. As excited as I am about Ohio State’s opener against Youngstown State on Saturday, a win over the I-AA Penguins probably isn’t going to do the trick. So here’s a list of other games Buckeye fans should care about this week:

Illinois v. Missouri
This is arguably the highest profile game of the week, pitting 6th ranked Missouri against 20th ranked Illinois. As hard as it is for Buckeye fans to root for Juice Williams after last year, may I suggest sucking it up. It’s good for the Big Ten, and therefore good for Ohio State, if Illinois wins. When Ohio State travels to Illinois in November to exact revenge for last year’s loss, I don’t want to hear Mark May talking about how Illinois is a glorified Pee Wee team with no quality wins.

Michigan State v. Cal
Although neither team is ranked, this is a great Big Ten-Pac-10 match-up. Despite the fact that USC has won every Pac-10 title since the flush toilet was invented, and despite the fact that last year’s upset of USC by Stanford—a team in its own conference—was hailed as one of the biggest upsets of all time (a statement meant to imply how horrible, how impossibly bereft of talent Stanford is), the conference is still considered deeper than the Big Ten. So a Michigan State win here would be nice.

Michigan v. Utah
Remember how good you felt last year when Michigan got beat by a I-AA team whose mascot was the albino from Deliverance? How loud you cheered? And then how much it sucked for the rest of the season as every announcer pointed to that game as the perfect example of just how much the Big Ten blows? Well, don’t wish for that again. The announcers are already talking about a possible upset by Utah. Heck, Michigan’s only picked by three. And if that doesn’t resonate, let me remind you that Utah finished third in the Mountain West Conference last year…right behind Air Force. That’s how far Michigan has fallen. And though I know it goes against every instinct in your body, trust me, we want—we need—Michigan to win. For those of you who just can’t bring yourselves to wish for anything but pain and humiliation for the Wolverines, I refer you to my postings from last October: “Go Blue? A Guide to Unconventional Cheering” (Parts One and Two). Read it. It will help you through the hurting.

Oh, and by the way, that game I was watching? South Carolina won. Big. It seems the SEC isn’t going to implode, meaning it’s all the more urgent that the Big Ten start taking matters into its own hands. Though it’s not too late for some insolent teenagers to give the Old Ball Coach a little surprise on his way home.

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