Let The True Season Now Begin

Kudos to the Penn State Nittany Lions for playing a very tough, gutty game today in cold, rainy Columbus.  Fortunately, for Buckeye Nation, Ohio State was able to overcome lots of turnovers and sloppy play and continue their quest for a slot in this year’s College Football Playoff.

osu-michigan-banner-1024x700But that’s for another day.  As the seconds ticked down this afternoon, all true Ohio State fans felt a little shiver in their spines and a quickening of their pulses.  With the Penn State game behind us and a W secured, we knew deep in our guts that the greatest rivalry week in college football — really, in all of sports — is now upon us.  And we also know that this year The Game is set up to be an absolute classic.  Ohio State hopes to continue its march to the National Championship, and Michigan — which has an excellent team — knows that it can derail those hopes, and break the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere, if they can just win this year’s edition of The Game.

Next week Ohio State will head to That State Up North to take on the Maize and Blue.  The teams and their fans despise, but somehow respect, one another.  Players who have taken the field in The Game say that it is one of the hardest-hitting, but cleanest, games they’ve ever experienced.  Both teams want to win, but they want to win the right way.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Michigan Week.  Brace yourselves!

Where Can I Get A Recording Of The Game?

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I’m not saying my decision not to record The Game was outcome-determinative, but . . . well, c’mon, you know it was!

What a performance by the Buckeyes, their coaches, their much maligned defense, and their equally maligned offensive line!  Beating That Team Up North never gets old.  And this win is made all the sweeter by the fact that Michigan came in expecting to win.

Seriously — where can I get a recording of The Game, 2018?

Not Jinxing It

We’ve got a pretty big game to be played in Columbus, Ohio today.  On this rainy Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines line up again for the best rivalry game in all of sports.

jinx-killer-oilNormally I would set up the DVR function on our TV and record this year’s version of The Game.  I’m not going to do so this year, however, because every time I have recorded the Buckeyes they’ve played horribly.  On the other hand, when I haven’t tried to record them, they’ve played well.  Given that track record, the proper course of conduct is clear.

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’m a firm believer in jinxes.  Of course, it’s ludicrously far-fetched to think that the activities of an old guy far away from Ohio Stadium could possibly have an impact on a football game — but then we’ve all heard of the butterfly effect.  Maybe the mere act of setting up a recording disturbs the ether and karma just enough to affect how Ohio State plays.  Who knows how these things work?  I just know I’m not going to take a chance on upsetting the mystic balance and feeling like I’m responsible for another less-than-stellar performance.  If not recording The Game somehow gives Ohio State a minute advantage, that’s good enough for me.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in this sentiment.  All across Buckeye Nation, fans of the Scarlet and Gray are donning lucky apparel and avoiding activities that seem to be somehow associated with failure.  Of course, fans of TTUN are no doubt doing the same thing, and fervently hoping that their individual activities will produce a win.  With two devoted fan bases each working to promote maximum luck and good fortune and avoid the dreaded jinx, who knows how the balance will tip?

Either way, there’s no recording of the game today.  Go Bucks!

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?

To Urban, And The Defense

Well, it doesn’t get much better than 12-0 and a win over Michigan.  Okay, it would be nice to have a bowl game in our future . . . but that wasn’t an option.  12-0 was the best we could do, and we did it.

I give a lot of credit to Urban Meyer.  He took a 6-7 team and turned it around.  He got it playing with passion, and he got it to believe in itself.  He had a great senior class and good coaches to help him, but Urban Meyer set the tone.  Obviously, we hope that he continues to recruit and coach as well as he did this year.  If he does, the future for Buckeye Nation is bright.

And how about the Buckeyes’ defense?  When they missed the tackle on Denard Robinson that allowed the long TD run at the end of the first half — and Robinson’s incredibly annoying spoon motion — I got a bad feeling.  But the defense rose to the occasion in the second half, belting around the Michigan offense, forcing Robinson to fumble, stopping him on crucial plays, delivering crushing hits, forcing turnovers, and sucking it up as the offense muffed opportunity after opportunity.  With the way the defense played in the second half, Ohio State should have won this game for two TDs or more.  This big win goes to the defense — and to Carlos Hyde, for finally grinding out those tough, classic Big Ten first downs on the ground that salted away the victory.

I also need to give kudos to Michigan.  One reason this game is the best rivalry in college football is that, year in and year out, the games are close and incredibly hard fought, no matter the records the teams bring to the game.  This year was no exception — a nail-biter filled with bone-jarring hits and great plays.  Every time the Buckeye defense forced a turnover in the second half, Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion and denied the Buckeyes the score that would have put the game away.  Michigan was in the game at the end only because their defense played tough-as-nails defense.  Anyone who watched the awful Michigan defenses during the Rich Rodriguez tenure has to give Brady Hoke some serious props for bringing the Michigan defense back to its roots and traditions.

For now, though, we’ll raise a glass to Urban Meyer, the Ohio State defense, and a much-cherished win in The Game.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

It’s Michigan Week, Bitches!

This week comes but once a year

When Buckeyes see their duty clear

And college football e’er bewitches

It’s Michigan Week, all you bitches!

And before this week shall pass

We’ll kick with glee Michigan ass

On Saturday at the Horseshoe

We’ll trounce the dismal Maize and Blue

And then a stein of beer we’ll raise

And toast to good old Woody Hayes

Then spray the ‘Shoe with chlorine

To rid the scent of Wolverine.

Let’s go, Bucks!

It’s Michigan Week!

This has been a dreadful season for the Buckeye Nation.  We’ve seen our coach, Jim Tressel, resign under fire.  We’ve dealt with an embarrassing NCAA scandal that cut out the heart of our offense.  We’ve watched the Buckeyes give up big leads, fritter away games, and play like pretenders rather than contenders.

But all of that means nothing this week, because Ohio State is playing Michigan.

To be sure, this year The Game has a different feel.  For one thing, it’s coming after Thanksgiving, rather than the weekend before.  For another, Michigan is the favorite for the first time in years.  But so what?  This is a game where the records get thrown out the window.  And if the Buckeyes can somehow beat the Wolverines, a dismal season will be salvaged.

The Wolverines are playing The Game at home, and everyone expects them to win.  They crushed Nebraska last week, their offense is clicking, and their defense is dramatically improved.  The Buckeyes, in contrast, have lost two in a row.  Yet . . . how will Michigan react to the high expectations?  They’ve lost to the Buckeyes six games in a row, and every Wolverine fan thinks this is the year for the Maize and Blue to get some serious payback.  If Ohio State can score some points and keep the game close, the pressure may work to the Buckeyes’ advantage.

We’ll find out come Saturday — and until then we’ll enjoy the excitement and taunting that make Michigan Week so special.

 

Finishing Strong

Ohio State won another tough Big Ten battle tonight, beating arch-rival Michigan 62-53.

The game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Buckeyes were out of sync offensively.  They turned the ball over and could not hit open shots.  They scored 23 points, had several defensive breakdowns, and went into the locker room trailing after what was surely their worst half of basketball this season.

In the second half, the Buckeyes successfully pounded the ball inside.  Jared Sullinger again was a man among boys, pulling down strong rebounds and somehow getting the ball in the bucket despite being double- and triple-teamed.  Aaron Craft bounced back from a sloppy first half to make some key inside buckets, William Buford knocked down some key shots, Jon Diebler played tough defense and ably fed the post, and David Lighty again showed his athleticism with great rebounding and defensive play.  All of the Buckeyes displayed their stamina in the second half, too, because Coach Thad Matta did not make a single substitution.  The Buckeyes scored 39 points in the half, pulled away from the overmatched Wolverines, and would have scored even more had they not been thoroughly mediocre from the free throw line.  Free throw shooting and fatigue will be a concern for Ohio State fans as the team comes down the stretch of the Big Ten season.

Ohio State now stands at 23-0.  Equally important, they have swept the season series with the Wolverines — and beating The Team Up North never gets old.

Seven In A Row, And Counting

Yesterday, on a cold and blustery day in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes pulverized the Michigan Wolverines, 37-7.  The win in The Game was the seventh in a row for Ohio State over its archrivals.

Buckeye bagpipers at French Field House

At Ohio Stadium it was a festive atmosphere from start to finish.  A troupe of bagpipers walked among the tailgaters at the French Field House lot playing Carmen Ohio.  Brutus rode by, hanging out of the window of a pickup truck and pumping up the raucous crowd.  Inside the Horseshoe the 105,000 fans also had their game faces on, heckling and booing the Michigan band, cheerleaders, fans, and anyone else who dared to wear maize and blue.

When the game finally began, Ohio State started slowly.  Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball.  Then the Ohio State defense forced a crucial turnover, Ohio State finally broke through to score 10 points, and when Michigan answered with its one touchdown Jordan Hall broke Michigan’s back with a return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.  After that it was no contest.  The Buckeyes methodically ground up the Wolverines, forcing two more turnovers and pounding Michigan on the ground.  The only thing that kept the game even remotely close was the absurd refereeing, which punished college kids for making the “O” sign and negated Boom Herron’s brilliant 99-yard touchdown run with the worst downfield holding call in college football history.

The team and band sing Carmen Ohio after the win

Although Michigan has struggled this year, this nevertheless was an impressive win for the Buckeyes.  The offense did not play its best game, yet still Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, and their teammates scored 30 offensive points — and could easily have scored more if Coach Tressel had not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.  The defense, on the other hand, played one of its best games.  It held the high-powered Michigan offense to its lowest point total of the season and pretty much shut down the Wolverines after they scored their lone touchdown.  The Buckeyes clearly wanted to contain Denard Robinson, and for the most part they succeeded.  When Robinson went out with an injury, every Buckeyes fan breathed a sigh of relief.  Although Tate Forcier is a decent quarterback, he is a much easier player to defend.

At the end, as we listened to the team sing Carmen Ohio and looked at the scoreboard memorializing a decisive victory over the Wolverines, it was a sweet moment.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

The Game, 2010 Edition (A Weather Update)

Weather conditions clearly can influence football games, and The Game is no different.  The most celebrated example is the 1950 Snow Bowl, when a freak blizzard hit the day of the game and Michigan won 9-3.  That loss led to the firing of Ohio State’s coach and the hiring of Woody Hayes — and the rest is history.

This morning it is cold in Columbus — and more importantly from a football standpoint, there is a sharp, frigid breeze blowing from the west.  It was tough to make headway when Penny and I turned west on our walk, and I would expect that the wind also would make it tough to pass, or punt.  According to The Weather Channel forecast, the wind is expected to be blowing at 17 mph from the west come game time.

Jim Tressel tends to get very conservative when the wind is a factor; if that tendency holds true to form I expect Ohio State will really focus on running the ball.  Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez, on the other hand, has nothing to lose.  Windy or not, I think we will see the full Michigan playbook today.

The Game, 2010 Edition

Tomorrow is The Game.  I’ll be there, sitting in the Horseshoe in Section 12A.  The game will have the traditional noon start and the weather will be crisp and cold, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s.

Other than the start time and the weather, I don’t think there is much that is predictable about this edition of The Game.  Michigan has a great offensive player in lightning quick QB Denard Robinson, who is rewriting the Michigan record books.  Robinson is easily the most explosive offensive player that Buckeyes will have faced so far this year.  With Robinson at the helm, the Wolverines have scored points in bunches.  Michigan’s offense will pose tremendous challenges for the Ohio State defense.  No team that has faced Michigan so far this year has shut down the offense, and I don’t expect the Buckeyes to do so, either.

On the other side of the ball, it is fair to say that the 2010 Michigan defense is not very good.  In fact, for those of us who grew up with the rivalry in the ’70s when Michigan always fielded a stout, hard-hitting defense, Michigan’s current defense is virtually unrecognizable.  The 2010 Wolverines have given up an average of more than 39 points per game in Big Ten play and have — statistically, at least — one of the worst defenses in college football.  In last week’s Michigan loss, Wisconsin ran the ball again, and again, and again, and Michigan simply could not stop them.  You have to think that Ohio State will be able to move the ball and put points on the board.

There is a lot to worry about in this game.  Teams that can score always have a shot at an upset; if Ohio State gets sloppy and puts the ball on the ground or wastes scoring opportunities, Michigan could get ahead and stay ahead.  Although Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite, this rivalry has seen lots of upsets over the years, and Michigan may be due.  The Wolverines have lost six in a row to the Buckeyes, and must be wondering whether a loss tomorrow would cost head coach Rich Rodriguez his job.  Let’s hope that this year isn’t the year the Wolverines break the streak.

 

Welcome To Michigan Week

For Buckeye Nation, this is one of the most important weeks of the year.  It is Michigan Week — seven days of nervous anticipation and intense mental preparation for the Buckeyes’ biggest game of the year.  The week will come to an end at noon on Saturday, when Ohio State and Michigan square off in The Game, for another edition of the greatest single-game rivalry in sports.

On the OSU campus, Michigan Week is a great week for charitable activities.  Michigan and Ohio State compete to see who can donate the most blood to the American Red Cross.  Goodwill runs a clothing drive.  There will be pep rallies, and banner contests, and the traditional Mirror Lake jump on Friday.  (The Mirror Lake dip might be a bit bracing — the forecast is for snow flurries on Friday, and a crisp, clear conditions come game time.)

It’s weird to have Thanksgiving during Michigan Week; usually the game is played the preceding Saturday.  The upcoming game will give a lot of Columbus families something to debate while gobbling down their turkey.

I’ll have some thoughts about The Game later this week.  For now, I’ll just enjoy the long-awaited arrival of one of the greatest weeks of the year.

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game! (Cont.)

mgoblog.com is a funny, entertaining blog about Michigan sports that is an enjoyable read for any sports fan (even if it is written by a diehard Michigan fan).  I am therefore pleased to note that Brian, the redoubtable head man at mgoblog, agrees that messing with the Ohio State-Michigan traditional end-of-the-year matchup would be colossally stupid.

Ohio and Michigan are divided by a state line located just a bit north of Toledo, and Ohio State fans and Michigan fans are divided by decades of hatred, bile, venom, and bitter rivalry, but we can and do agree on one thing — The Game is special and sacred, and shouldn’t be tinkered with for reasons of revenue, or ratings, or “branding,” or anything else.  Michigan fans understand this, Ohio State fans understand this, and any real college football fan in the country understands this.  Can it really be that the Big Ten powers-that-be don’t understand something so basic, so obvious, and so powerful?

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game!

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game!

The post-expansion rumblings from Big Ten headquarters are troubling because they indicate that conference officials may decide to mess with The Game.  The latest article quotes Michigan’s Athletic Director as making comments that raise serious questions about whether Ohio State and Michigan will continue to play their end-of-season showdown game.   Michigan’s AD says he would not place Ohio State and Michigan in the same conference, because if they are in different divisions they could play, again, in the conference championship game.  If that happens, he argues that the teams logically should not play in the last game of the regular season, because then they could conceivably have to play back-to-back games.

My concern about Big Ten expansion all along has been that it will wreck Big Ten traditions like The Game.  The Ohio State-Michigan game is generally recognized as the single greatest rivalry game in all of sports.  It is hard for me to believe that Big Ten officials would be so idiotic as to tinker with their annual marquee match-up, but the comments of Michigan’s AD certainly suggest that possibility.

Big Ten officials and others need to realize that a Big Ten championship game played at a neutral site cannot possibly supplant The Game.  Sure, the winner of the Big Ten championship game will go on to the BCS, but that game will be missing what makes the Ohio State-Michigan game so special.

Much of what makes college football the greatest sport of all is the history underlying the match-ups, the storied venues like The Horsehoe and The Big House where the games have been played for decades, the home field traditions, and the collective memories of the joys and heartbreaks that true fans have experienced in the games against their arch-rivals.  Sports fans elsewhere understand the deep feelings at play in these rivalry games.  They watch the Ohio State-Michigan game because they recognize the strong emotions, they appreciate that the players on both teams are playing their guts out because they so desperately want to beat their despised (yet respected) opponents, and they identify with heavenly highs experienced by the fans of the winners and the crushing despair inflicted on the fans of the losers.  The Big Ten Championship Game will have none of that.

Rather than messing with The Game, Big Ten officials should be doing whatever they can to avoid making The Game into just another game.

The Post-Big Ten Expansion, Impending Divisional, Corporate Naming Rights Championship Game Blues

The Big Ten football meetings occurred yesterday and produced good news and bad news for football traditionalists.

The good news is that the Big Ten is going to move from an eight-game in-conference schedule to a nine-game in-conference schedule to try to preserve rivalries.  If that means that Big Ten teams will play a conference opponent rather than a cupcake, I’m all for it.  (Let’s hope, though, that the extra conference game doesn’t keep Big Ten teams from scheduling tough out-of-conference opponents, as Ohio State has done recently with Texas, USC, and Miami.)  The other good news is that further expansion is on hold, for now at least, and Notre Dame is off the table as a candidate.  The Irish apparently want to keep their independent status in football, and I say more power to them.  The reality, however, is that there are significant financial pressures favoring expansion, so our respite from more expansion talk is probably only temporary.

In my view, the bad news is more significant than the good.  The conference will split into two six-team divisions, there will be a conference championship game, and — horror of horrors! — the “naming rights” for the championship game will be sold.  So, instead of “The Game” ending the season for Ohio State and Michigan, we will have to endure a post-rivalry Blanditron Corporation Big Ten Championship Game at some non-campus location like Chicago or Detroit.  Sorry, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional clout for me.

A lot of this has yet to be worked out, of course.  The conference hasn’t decided which teams will go into which division — do you divide them east-west, north-south, or alphabetically? — or where a championship game will be played.  For now, all we know is that the Big Ten world is changing, and 2010 will be the last year for the conference in its hallowed, currently recognizable form.  Let’s enjoy it, in all its fleeting, tradition-rich glory!