Epic

Look, there have been a lot of incredible Ohio State-Michigan games over the years.  Virtually every game between the two fierce rivals during the ’70s was a tough, hard-hitting advertisement for why college football is the greatest sport there is.  There was the Snow Bowl, and the 2006 match-up between two teams ranked no. 1 and no.2, and — giving the devil its due — Michigan’s legendary 1969 upset of an Ohio State team that many at the time considered to be the best college football team ever.

So I’m not going to say that yesterday’s double-overtime thriller was the best Ohio State-Michigan game ever played — but I am going to say that it was an epic contest that was simply one of the best college football games I’ve ever seen.  Two strong teams with shutdown defenses.  Wild emotional swings.  Missed field goals and turnovers.  Officiating controversy.  A gutsy call that blew up in the coach’s face, and then a gutsy call that produced the game-winning touchdown.  It’s the stuff of legend; an instant classic that people will remember and talk about for years to come.  No one who watched it, in the stands or on TV, will forget the 2016 edition of The Game.

And in the end, Ohio State won, and Michigan went home crushed.  Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, blames the referees for the loss, saying they missed a spot and blew some pass interference calls.  His disappointment is understandable, because his team played a great game and seemed to have The Game in hand until Ohio State’s defense ground the Michigan offense down and the Buckeyes’ offense finally woke up.  Still, it’s too bad that such a great game should end with such sour grapes.  Coach Harbaugh’s comments seem to cheapen The Game, and that’s too bad.

Ohio State’s unfortunate mishaps against Penn State mean that the Buckeyes once again won’t play in the Big Ten championship game.   Instead, they will have to wait to see whether they are selected for this year’s college football playoff, and Ohio State fans will keep their fingers crossed that the selection committee recognizes that the Buckeyes are one of the four best teams in the land.

For now, though, we can just savor an epic win against the Wolverines, and reflect on the fact that beating That Team from Up North never gets old.

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The Week Of The Game

In most of America, people woke up this morning, rubbed their hands over their sleep-filled eyes, and wondered aloud that it could be Thanksgiving Week already.

Not so in Buckeye Nation.  Sure, we know there is some minor holiday on Thursday featuring turkey, stuffing, family arguments about politics, and appalling overeating — but our real focus is on next Saturday, when Ohio State takes on That Team from Up North in the latest annual incarnation of The Game.

This year’s version of The Game promises to be a humdinger.  Both Ohio State and Michigan have ten wins, both are ranked in the top five nationally, and both harbor hopes of being selected to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoffs.  The Buckeyes have had an up-and-down season that has seen them crush some teams and squeak by others.  Yesterday’s nail-biter against a rugged Michigan State squad fell into the latter category.  That Team from Up North, on the other hand, has been a lot more consistent in thrashing just about everyone they’ve faced.  Both teams have one loss, but Ohio State’s defeat, to Penn State, means the Buckeyes don’t control their own destiny in their bid to win the Big Ten championship.  Michigan can get to the Big Ten title game by beating the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State wins it has to hope that those same Michigan State Spartans who gave the Buckeyes such a tough time yesterday can beat Penn State.

Regardless of the Big Ten title game implications, this will be the most eagerly anticipated Ohio-State-Michigan showdown since 2006, when the Buckeyes and Wolverines were ranked 1 and 2 going into The Game.  Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh may be quirky — OK, downright weird — but the guy obviously can coach.  In two years, he’s turned around the Michigan program and has Wolverines playing with swagger and toughness, especially on defense.  Ohio State, on the other hand, has to figure out which team will show up on Saturday — the one that has been almost unstoppable offensively, or the one that struggles to score and finds itself trying to hang on by its fingernails come the fourth quarter.  Members of Buckeye Nation are hoping it’s the former.

So bring on The Game.  Oh, and on Thursday throw me a turkey leg, willya?

Welcome Back, Coach Harbaugh

ESPN and other sources are reporting that Jim Harbaugh, most recently coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is returning to his alma mater to coach the Michigan Wolverines.  The apparent hire is supposed to be formally announced tomorrow.

I welcome Coach Harbaugh back to the Big Ten.  I’m not sure that I can speak for the rest of Buckeye Nation, but I am glad that Michigan has hired someone who has been successful virtually everywhere he has coached.  The hiring of Coach Harbaugh may make it more difficult for Ohio State to prevail in The Game — Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and the players on the OSU roster obviously will have something to say about that — but I think it is good for the Big Ten if in fact Michigan has lured a fine coach back to the college ranks.

There seems to be a divide among college football fans.  Some people root only for their team, don’t really care about the other teams in the conference, and want their archrivals to lose every game in humiliating fashion; others root hard for their team, but want their conference to perform well and therefore pull for the conference foes — including the archrival — when bowl season rolls around.  I’m in the latter camp.  I hope that Ohio State pulverizes Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and every other Big Ten team every time they play, but when Big Ten teams play in bowls, I hope they win every game.  I want the Big Ten conference as a whole to be respected — which would be a change from the recent prevailing perception of the Old Conference.

I think Michigan’s apparent hire of Jim Harbaugh is another step in attempting to regain the respect that the Big Ten has lost.  So I say:  Coach Harbaugh, welcome back!  And next year, I hope we kick your keisters in The Game with That Team Up North.

Welcome, Coach Hoke

The Michigan Wolverines have hired Brady Hoke as the new head football coach.  Hoke, who looks somewhat like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is a former Michigan assistant who was the head coach of San Diego State and formerly the head coach at Ball State.

Hoke’s hiring brings Michigan’s coaching search to an end.  I imagine that end cannot come soon enough for Michigan fans.  Former coach Rich Rodriguez was fired after a humiliating New Year’s Day loss without a designated successor ready to step in and take over.  The firing left Michigan without a head coach during some of the crucial days of the recruiting period.  It also kicked off a search process in which Michigan at times seemed like the awkward kid at the sock hop whose invitations to dance are embarrassingly, publicly spurned by everyone in attendance.  Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and Les Miles decided to stay at LSU before Hoke accepted Michigan’s offer.

None of that means anything now, of course.  Hoke will have a chance to put his stamp on the program, and the best way for him to do that would be to guide his Wolverines to victories over Michigan’s big rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State.  And any Ohio State fan who believes that that result is wildly improbable would do well to remember an infamous article that appeared in The Michigan Daily on January 22, 2001.  The Daily sports columnist chuckled in wonderment at the very notion that a newly hired, “Division I rookie” coach could possibly expect to prevail against the mighty Wolverines and their star-studded roster in a game at the Big House the next season.  In the annals of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, that article is like the 1948 Chicago Tribune “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline — because the “Division I rookie” coach was Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes did in fact beat the heavily favored Wolverines in the game at Ann Arbor in November 2001, and Coach Tressel has gone on to lead Ohio State to victory in 9 of the 10 years he has coached the Buckeyes in The Game.

So, I welcome Coach Hoke back to the greatest rivalry in sports — and I hope that, despite his best efforts, he tastes bitter defeat when the 2011 version of The Game kicks off in 10 months.