“Beat Ohio.” Two words reverberated around Michigan Stadium last Saturday as the Wolverines were putting the finishing touches on a 45-17 trouncing of Nebraska.
“Beat Ohio.” Two words that Michigan fans across the country have been saying for weeks. Sure, a 9-2 season after three disappointing years has been a welcome sight for the Wolverine faithful, but without a win over the hated Buckeyes, something about 2011 will still feel like a disappointment.
“Beat Ohio.” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke refers to Ohio State as just “Ohio.” He now has the fans and his players doing the same. When Hoke arrived at Michigan, he had countdown clocks installed in Schembechler Hall for Michigan’s biggest rivals. The purpose of the clocks being to give daily motivation to his players. No game motivates Hoke and his players more than the annual regular season finale against the Buckeyes.
While the Wolverines countdown to kickoff, Buckeye fans have a count of their own. Theirs stands at 2,924. That is the number of days since Michigan has defeated Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won seven games in a row in the rivalry, counting last years vacated victory. Coming into this season, most people around college football would have expected more of the same. But a funny thing happened along the way. Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are no longer Buckeyes. And Brady Hoke has Michigan winning again.
One way or the other, a tide is turning in the rivalry. No matter who comes out victorious, something is about to change for Michigan and Ohio State. It starts with the coaches. Brady Hoke has shown to be the character that Michigan needs, on and off the field. Besides referring to OSU as “Ohio”, Hoke refuses to wear the color red. Ever. Even though the school he coached prior to Michigan, San Diego State, has black and red as it’s school colors. Perhaps no man respects this rivalry more than Hoke, and that has Michigan fans confident that he is the man to end their losing streak.
The situation at Ohio State is a little different. They are a program in turmoil. NCAA sanctions and penalties are looming, and the mystique the program built up under Jim Tressel has fallen apart. Luke Fickell is the man in charge for the Buckeyes, for now. The longtime assistant appears to be a lame-duck head man, with reports that Urban Meyer will take over Ohio State running rampant. The first, and probably only season of the Fickell regime has been disappointing for everyone at Ohio State. Losing to Michigan tomorrow would only make the transition to Meyer that much easier.
While this game doesn’t have the same prestige that many prior match-ups have had, winning tomorrow is paramount for both teams. Michigan needs to prove that this season is not a fluke, and that they are ready to compete with the Buckeyes again. Ohio State needs to hold on to the momentum they have gained in this rivalry while they face the uncertainty and change of a program in turbulence.
Things are looking better for the Wolverines than they have in years, but no Michigan fan can truly feel like they are back until they do one thing: Beat Ohio.