This is the first time in Ohio State football history that the team has lost to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa in the same season. This is the second time under Jim Tressel that a senior captain has been suspended from playing. And while the national spotlight tends to avoid mediocre teams, thanks to what looks like a frightening vendetta from someone at ESPN the Magazine, the football program is making headlines all over the country for allegations usually reserved for SEC or SWAC teams.
What I'm trying to say is that if there was ever a season where an Ohio State loss to Michigan would be even remotely palpable, this is it.
Before I am accused of blasphemy, consider your own feelings as a sports fan. Do you believe in a higher sports power? Have you ever prayed so hard for an Ohio State victory against Michigan when there was much more at stake than there is this year that you were secretly willing to trade a loss sometime in the future when The Game didn't mean quite as much? Well damn it, I have. I would have gladly traded the loss to Michigan in 1995 for the win in 1994. The loss in '95 kept OSU out of the Rose Bowl and a possible national championship. The win in 1994 did only one thing – it saved John Cooper's job. Football karma makes no logical sense in the rational world, but college football fans (nor its procedure for determining a champion) don't exist in a rational world.
What would a win against Michigan accomplish this year? Well, several things – it would send OSU from an embarrassing bowl game against a comparably mediocre team to a slightly less embarrassing bowl game against a much better mediocre team, which may result in a more embarrassing nationally televised outcome (though it is impossible to overcome ever losing to Northwestern, televised or not). It would also keep Michigan from a perfect conference record, though they are practically guaranteed a BCS bowl bid no matter what happens. If OSU should lose, they're still going to an embarrassing bowl game, they're still getting the valuable December practice time, and this young team will gain valuable experience in bowl preparation so that they can aspire to play acceptable football next year and in the years to come.
Basically, there is nothing at stake this year against Michigan except for rivalry pride, and in a rivalry where so much more has been at stake for so many years, just playing for rivalry pride is the baseline of anticipation, the absolute lowest level of importance. Ohio State wins, they remain unranked, this abysmal season is still abysmal, but with an asterisk and some gold pants. Ohio State loses, they remain unranked, this abysmal season is still abysmal, and Clarett along with his orange jumpsuit-wearing crew of character witnesses prolongs the unwanted spotlight on the program anyway.
Let me be clear – under no circumstance would I ever want Ohio State to lose to anybody, let alone Michigan. All I'm saying, as the witness to numerous Michigan game catastrophes of the past which have left their permanent wounds all over my psyche, is that if the Buckeyes were to fall short this Saturday, this pain of this loss would pale in comparison to every single loss to Michigan I have witnessed in my lifetime. Now, the 2001 win by another mediocre Ohio State team in Ann Arbor was validation for a new era of Buckeye football and set the stage for the national championship run of 2002. However, for this 2004 team, the bottom has been scratched at all year, and while a win on Saturday may provide some bounce for this rudderless ship, either outcome still sets the stage for one last game in December, in a dome, on ESPN or ESPN2. What happens next year isn't contingent on Ohio State beating Michigan this weekend, what happens next year is up to the to-be-seniors on this team, the rest of the talent already on the roster, and the coaching staff taking a look at why things went so badly this season and making sure it doesn't happen again on their watch.
Go Bucks! Beat Michigan!
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