A True Rivalry
Given the premium on press passes, I watched this game at Michigan from the stands. To be exact, I sat in Section 12, Row 49, and seat 27. First, I want to congratulate Michigan fans on their overall graciousness and gentility. There were a few drunken rowdies (just like there are at every game), but by and large Michigan and Ohio State fans understand they have a chance to be a part of something special, and they understand what truly makes a great rivalry.
A great rivalry is founded upon respect.
It is not about getting in someone's face and screaming epithets or assaulting a rival fan (Wisconsin). It is not about selling all of your tickets because you know you cannot win (Indiana). It is not about being able to sneak up on a team and upset them by giving them your best shot because they don't consider you to be their greatest rival (Michigan State and Penn State for UM and OSU respectively).
It is about waiting all year for one game to decide which of the two greatest programs in the history of the Big Ten will once again walk away with the conference title. It is about Michigan fans being able to ‘razz' fans on each side about losing the game because last two years – they were feeling that biting sensation in their backside. It is about being able to walk to your car and fans from both sides wishing each other luck in their bowl games.
It was a pleasant surprise to meet a former player for the Michigan Wolverines, Tom Fette. Tom played end for Michigan from 1962 to 1964, and he and his gracious wife stood behind me for this game. I had a wonderful time talking football with him. He called out the plays each team was running while we chatted about the strategy each coach was employing. Though I was not able to chat with him and get too many great stories from the past, I would like to mention…
Championship rings look nice. Tom Fette showed me his from 1965 and I must say I was impressed.
Mr. Fette spoke of the 1963 Ohio State - Michigan game. After losing John F. Kennedy to an assassin, The Game was bumped back for a week. While the student body went home for holiday break, the Michigan and Ohio State players practiced for 7 more days. Ohio State ended up the winner late in the game thanks to one Paul Warfield.
Tom spoke of facing Dick Butkus and a number of fabulous talents, but the greatest player he ever faced was none other than Ohio State's Paul Warfield.
The Big House
Here are a few impressions for those who have never been to a game in Ann Arbor.
Traffic was absolutely abysmal. If you plan on a road trip to see this game in the future, make sure you hit Ann Arbor before 9 am.
I have never heard a quieter 112,000 and would not have believed the stadium would be that quiet for most of the game if you had told me beforehand. It was truly loud only two or three times and only then just for a few seconds.
The Stadium itself is outdated in its restrooms and other facilities, but it just oozes tradition and history. That alone would be worth the trip for those that love college football.
Michigan squeezes in more people per square inch than I thought possible. The administration needs to see if they can get another world record from Guinness for this. Had it not been for the early exit of two drunken fans in the section, I might have been forced to be friendlier with my neighbors on either side than polite.
There is not a bad seat in the house. I looked and could not find a single place where one might have an obstructed view.
Though not as physically imposing as Ohio Stadium, Michigan fans are closer to the players and therefore, it adds a psychological dimension to playing there that most stadiums lack.
The Ring of Honor is special. I strolled past it on the way out of the stadium and stopped to look at it before moving out toward the car.
Though the Buckeyes were physically outmatched, my guess is that they will see this game as "what might have been." Both Fox and Hawk missed interception opportunities early, and even though they would have had to make incredible plays on the ball to get them – that is what a team has to do in a game like yesterday if they want to win. For all that Michael Jenkins abused the Michigan secondary, he missed a couple of passes that could have been huge plays. Craig Krenzel missed both Jenkins and Holmes on a play early in the first half when both were streaking down the field wide open. Holmes in particular – had Krenzel seen him and delivered the football – would undoubtedly had a touchdown. The Buckeyes did not capitalize on the Gamble interception. There were multiple missed tackles on a couple of Michigan scores, and Fraser had penetration but simply did not see Breaston carrying the football on the Wolverines' first touchdown.
All in all, the Bucks played hard. They just looked like they were coming up a few inches short all day long.
The Michigan fans around me – and indeed the entire stadium – simply was in awe of B.J. Sander yesterday. On the day, he averaged 49.1 yards per kick.
Just think about that for a moment. Every time he hit the ball, Sander was getting almost 50 yards per kick. Sander's day has to be one of the all time greatest performances in The Game by a punter. Without his leg, OSU would have been in serious trouble.
There were several in the stands around me who were trying to figure out obtain Sander's services for the Maize and Blue. There were offers of a trade if I could work it out.
If Sander does not end up in the top three for the Ray Guy award this year, they should get rid of it. It would be a farce. He finished the season with a 43.6 yard per punt average with only seven touchbacks, none blocked, and 36 of his 68 total punts were downed inside the 20. In the last two weeks alone, Sander put on a show the likes of which has probably not been seen at Ohio State since Tom Tupa and maybe not even then.
OSU wanted no part of OU
Would it have been nice to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl? Well, yes and no.
Yes, because Ohio State would have been trying for back-to-back national titles. No team playing in a tough conference has been able to try for repeat titles since Alabama in the late 1970's. Yes, because in a one game winner takes all, if you are hot and make the right plays, anyone can win. It just comes down to who wants it more and who does what it takes on that particular evening. Yes because they would have had back-to-back BCS bowls guaranteed. BCS bowls are (obviously) a big deal to recruiting, national exposure, money, and even rewarding to players and coaches for a job well done.
On the other hand, I think that it might not have been such a great thing to meet OU in the Sugar Bowl. For one, OU is not Miami. Miami has been gradually slipping with regard to discipline since Butch Davis left, and that meant that even with all their talent last season – they were much more beatable than an OU squad with talent and superb discipline on January 4, 2004. Second, OSU is lacking in offensive punch this year and does not have the talent right now of a USC or even an LSU on that side of the football. If recruits are smart, they will see immediate playing time available at Ohio State because it is there. Meanwhile, OU has enough talent on both sides of the ball to make even Michigan look toothless. It very well could have been a blowout. Third, the national media will view this team much differently. The media and fans would received the "Nebraska Treatment" for playing in the Sugar Bowl before the game even kicked off, and if they were to have lost, it would have been very, very ugly. Instead of that, Ohio State will likely get all sorts of positive press now and is no longer "public enemy #1." They will be congratulated on their season and touted as a ‘BCS worthy' team.
If any Ohio State fans are thinking this way, then they need to check themselves into a mental institution. Sure, it is never a great feeling to lose to your archrival. Sure, it hurts to know that Ohio State was probably one loss away from playing for the national title again in the Sugar Bowl. However, just consider the adversity and pressures the Buckeyes have faced this year.
- They lost their left tackle, Ivan Douglas before Spring Practices. Sadly, Douglas probably will not be able to play again due to a blood clotting condition.
- They lost the best tailback in the country right before Fall Practices. This loss was not just some simple injury. Oh no, it was a full-blown media and NCAA controversy that descended upon the team because Clarett had apparently been on the take for years.
- Their two backup tailbacks from a year ago moved to take on the role of starter, but both Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall suffered injury plagued seasons.
- They lost their starting fullback for most of the season right before fall camp. Brandon Joe admitted to reporters last Monday that he was not nearly healthy but was giving it all out of a sense of team and for the seniors.
- They lost their backup fullback for several games earlier in the season. Schnittker's injury forced the Buckeyes to play with an H-back because there were no other players to step into the fullback role.
- They lost a Rimington Award Candidate at center early in the season for multiple games. Stepanovich gutted it out but has never played healthy since his high ankle sprain.
- They lost one of their top defensive linemen in Darrion Scott to injury. Like Stepanovich, he came back – but like Stepanovich has not been fully healthy all year.
- They lost their starting quarterback for two full games and parts of two others this season. They went 3-1 in those contests thanks to Scott McMullen – no small feat. Still, injuries destroy continuity and timing – which will kill an offense late in the year.
- They lost their fastest and possibly most athletic wide receiver against Indiana just as the offense looked to be coming out of its funk. Drew Carter also was the gunner on punt block teams that the opposition was forced to account for – leaving the possibility of others getting in on the punter to block the kick.
- Their starting left tackle was injured against Purdue, left the game early and did not return. Sims played but was not whole in the Michigan game.
- They lost key defensive back E.J. Underwood to a thumb injury. No other defensive back besides Gamble had shown the ability to play the ball like E.J. did in the Spring Scrimmage. He probably would have seen extensive playing time yesterday.
- Their starting middle linebacker broke his hand recently. Fred Pagac gutted it out, but wrapping up a tackle on a phenomenal athlete with a broken hand is more than a little difficult.
- They lost their backup middle linebacker to a shoulder injury against Purdue. Mike D'Andrea not only played that position but was a key person on special teams as well.
- They were coming off of a national championship. No team in a good conference has repeated since Alabama in the late 1970's (when scholarship numbers were different for the big programs).
That this team, after suffering so many injuries, could reach 10-2 with its brutal schedule is a testament to their will and the skill of the coaching staff.
The Buckeyes have absolutely nothing to hang their head about, and neither do their fans. In fact, both should be proud of this team and what it has accomplished over the last two seasons. 24-2 is not bad. Not bad at all.
With the losses by Washington State, Texas Christian University, and Virginia Tech – Ohio State has found itself not dropping far at all. In fact, today's coaches' poll has them at #7 and the AP at #8. They are poised to move back into the top 6 before the BCS bowls make their selection.
1. Florida and Florida State play. If Florida State wins, they might leap OSU, but they might not. If Florida wins, they will end up probably somewhere around 8-10.
2. Georgia Tech and Georgia play a no holds barred game to end their season. Georgia is beat up and Tech has played VERY well in a few games this season with Ohio State's old defensive backs coach, Tenuta, as their defensive coordinator. If Tech upsets Georgia, then Tennessee goes to face LSU. OSU would move up to #6 and #7 in the respective polls.
3. If Georgia loses, Tennessee plays LSU for the SEC title. I don't think the Vols have what is necessary to beat the ‘Taaahgas.' That would mean that Tennessee probably gets knocked off, and they are no longer a threat to move ahead of Ohio State. Ohio State solidifies their position at #6 in the coaches' poll, is bumped to #6 in the AP, and probably moves up another spot in the BCS.
Looking at this scenario (which is actually not far fetched at all), OSU could end up in the top 6-8 of the BCS and be (along with Texas) highly attractive to the Fiesta or Orange.
I give OSU a better than 50-50 shot of getting into a BCS Bowl because the team never quits, it is well coached, its fans travel extremely well, and Ohio State gets big television ratings.