The Rivalry: Good, Bad Or Indifferent?

Our five-part series on the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry concludes today with a question: Would it help or harm the rivalry if the Buckeyes and Wolverines end up meeting twice this year. A number of former players and observers have strong opinions on the subject.

Looking at the Ohio State-Michigan series, the all-time record stands as follows: Michigan with 58 wins, Ohio State with 45 and six ties.

Since 1918, when the teams decided to meet every year, Michigan holds a small 46-45-4 edge.

And since 1935, when The Game became the traditional season capper for each squad, the total is 38 wins for OSU, 36 for U-M, and those four pesky ties.

Throughout the past week, we've taken a look at the status of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. We've looked at the potential that the two teams will play twice this year for the first time, we've looked at the edge that exists in the rivalry, and we've looked at two hardcore coaches and their high-level recruiting.

But one thing remains to be asked: Would a historic double matchup this year be good or bad for the rivalry?

Think back to those records in the series. Stretching back nearly a century, the annual version of The Game has been just that, with the sands of time easy to mark as they pass through the hourglass.

"I think it's something that's special," said former OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who now co-hosts a radio show in Columbus on WBNS. "You look at the records and you know how many years they've played based upon the number of games they've played. They've never doubled up, so that one season that's in there might be a little interesting.

"But at the same time, you love the tradition that comes with it. You love that they play in the last game every season and usually there's so much riding on it. The fact that you may play twice in a row and if you know that going into the game, that may diminish the game's worth a little bit."

That seems to be the biggest worry that some people have with the fact that the Buckeyes and Wolverines might meet in both the regular season-ending matchup and the Big Ten Championship Game a week later – if the two teams go into the game in Ann Arbor knowing that they will play again seven days later, could Ohio State and Michigan take part in a game with nothing on the line?

In other words, could the two historic rivals, bitter combatants for more than a century, play each other and, well, not care about the outcome?

"The weird game is not the second game, the weird game is the first game in that case," said author John U. Bacon, whose book about the Big Ten, "Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football" is due out this fall. "Think about this – at what point, if there's a 10-point spread or a 12-point spread, do you pull your starters? Do you pull your quarterback? If Braxton Miller or Devin Gardner is banged up, can you just save them for the next week?

"That's when it gets weird, and that's the only potential damage, in my opinion, to this great rivalry that could be done. The biggest thing that's great about this rivalry is these guys go all-out, every play, every game, no exceptions. To have anything less than that in the fourth quarter would be really strange."

That's not to say Bacon expects such a situation with Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke in charge.

"They both grew up in Ohio, they know this rivalry, they know what it means," Bacon said. "I have a very difficult time imagining either coach backing off."

It's still a weird scenario, though, and many Ohio State fans seem to agree. A poll on our Ask the Insiders message board on whether a dual matchup would be good or bad for the rivalry that ran in the July print issue of BSB showed a two-to-one margin of fans saying it would be bad, and many of those asked about the situation had reservations about a double dip.

"You know what, honestly, I'm not sure," said former OSU defensive end Jay Richardson, now a member of the New Orleans Saints. "It's such a sacred rivalry. You only want to see it once a year. I hope it happening twice doesn't water it down, but we'll see."

Added Cleveland Plain Dealer Ohio State beat writer Doug Lesmerises, a noted advocate of putting the two teams in the same division, "I think it would be instructive to see for everyone who did like the idea to be able to say to the people, ‘See! This is what you did! Thank goodness we fixed this, because this is what it would have been (all the time)!' It's just going to be exhausting, and it's almost like overstimulation, I think, to try to do it back to back."

There is also the concern that the two rivals playing back-to-back could cause a health issue. Many of those who have played in the game have called it the hardest-hitting contest they've ever experienced, and that could put this year's players at risk should it come to that.

"That's really hard," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. "The wear and tear on the bodies of the players, you've got two sledgehammers."

"Let me tell you something – after playing in the NFL for six years, I still have not been in a more physical game than the Ohio State-Michigan game my senior year," said Richardson, who closed his career in the 2006 version of The Game that matched No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan.

"To play those guys twice in a row, man, listen – I hope those guys have good chiropractors in the office and good trainers because it's going to be brutal. That's just how it is. It's a physical, a tough, hard-nosed game. It's a man's world out there."

But there are those who think consecutive games would be both doable and a pretty cool scenario, though. Take former OSU offensive lineman Ben Person, who doesn't see a huge difference between back-to-back instances of The Game and some of the other playoff systems in place in sports.

"It's almost like playoffs in a way," Person said. "If you were watching the Stanley Cup Finals, those guys went after it for like six or seven games and battled each other. You watch the last couple of games in the finals, those are intense games. It's going to be the same thing.

"If we play them the last week of the regular season and then again in the Big Ten Championship Game, it will just intensify the game. That guy you're playing against most of the game, you guys just fought each other. You know each other. It will just make the game that much more intense, and there will be some surprises. But the physicality of the game, it will just increase."

For Bacon, it would be a unique instance that would simply add to the history of The Game, especially because it could not happen in the future after the Big Ten realigns its divisions starting in 2014.

"If it happened every year, I think we'd get tired of it and we'd think of some ways to fix it, but if it happens once and it can only happen once, I'm going to hope it happens just this once to see what it's like," the author said. "It's like the one chance at Halley's comet, basically."

That is one point that many seem to agree on, though. For all of the obvious issues, a double meeting would be weird, wild, and perhaps wonderful. It would be historic and hyped, the kind of thing those in attendance would tell stories about for decades to come.

"Who knows what college football is going to be like in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years," Lesmerises said. "When our grandchildren are thinking about this rivalry and looking back on this rivalry, if there's a year when they say, ‘They what?!? They played each other in back-to-back weeks? What do you mean?' that would be a thing that people would always remember.

"Since they put their toe in the water and created this mess, the idea that we would sort of escape it without it even happening, that it would always just be this looming possibility, I'd rather see it happen and have it be one historic year. So for this one year, yes, it's good for the rivalry. If it happened repeatedly, bad for the rivalry."

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