Importance of rivalry not lost on Ohio State or Michigan, despite Buckeyes’ recent dominance
Adding to the pressure and importance of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is that the teams have always played the last game of the season.
It’s final. There’s no disputing the winner. And the winner has bragging rights and the loser awful memories for an entire year.
Well, maybe not anymore.
Starting in 2011, “The Game” will still be the final one on the schedule. But the teams will be in opposite divisions of a 12-team Big Ten, with a title game the following week.
Finality? It’s possible that the 108th showdown could be followed by yet another meeting of divisional champion Michigan and Ohio State in just seven days.
“I’m not sure that when we line up next year for the Ohio State-Michigan game there will be any less excitement or anything will be taken away from it,” said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who is 8-1 against Michigan. “Maybe some of those byproducts will be added, but I don’t know how you could lose anything from this game. I just can’t conceive of that.”
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon played for Bo Schembechler at his alma mater. He also doesn’t believe things will change.
“Next year, when it’s Ohio State week, if you ask me if there has been any diminution of the rivalry, I guarantee you it will be every bit as intense as it has ever been,” he said.
Most of the players feel the same way.
“A lot of people say Michigan has stumbled, not been at the top of the pyramid the past couple of years, but I don’t think that you can hold a Michigan team down for that long,” said Ohio State defensive lineman Dexter Larimore, referring to the Buckeyes’ record run of six consecutive wins against the Wolverines. “They’re going to be in the next couple of years a very dominant team. Having us in two different divisions will make it even more of a rivalry.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“Is it going to be different with a championship game next year?” asked former Ohio State and NFL offensive lineman Jim Lachey, now a radio analyst for the Buckeyes. “Historically, if you beat Michigan you felt good because all you had left was your bowl game. Now, you beat Michigan and you have to go lay it on the line on the field one more time the following week.”
The Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) and lightning-quick quarterback Denard Robinson need a signature win to show that coach Rich Rodriguez is making progress in his rocky three years at the helm. A win would silence a lot of critics who say Michigan — with a world-class offense and a porous defense — is no longer a top-tier team in the Big Ten and years away from vying for a title again.
Even in the days leading up to this week’s game, there were rumors floating around that one more loss to the eighth-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1) and the coach of the maize and blue might get a pink slip.
History is on Ohio State’s side. Besides extending their own mark for domination in the series, the Buckeyes need a win to tie the Big Ten mark (set by Ohio State from 1972-77) for consecutive conference titles.
A win would also likely stamp the Buckeyes’ ticket to a Bowl Championship Series game.