It is only fair to admit prior to The Game I was admittedly on the fence. Some may charge my change of heart is because I am a ‘helpless homer,' but they would be incorrect. I stood in the stands watching this titanic struggle and by the third quarter had decided no matter who won – it would be unfair to have a rematch.
Each team left everything they had on the field that evening. The hitting was as physical as I have ever seen in a college game, and the sheer physical punishment alone is sufficient to say, ‘Once is enough.'
So, counting down from least to most important, here are seven reasons for why there should be no rematch.
7. People ask, "What could Michigan do on a neutral field?" That is an interesting question, but even if a rematch were to occur, that question will go unanswered.
Talking to a couple of Michigan fans after the game, I told them the Wolverines had no reason to hang their heads. They agreed but added they wanted a rematch on a neutral site. I didn't know whether to burst their bubble or not but after pausing for a moment pointed out, "There won't be a neutral site."
They looked confused, and I continued, "Ohio State has traveled to Tempe four times in the last five years. Their fans love it in Tempe, know all the local watering holes, and they view the town as good luck. They have yet to lose there and have three BCS wins and a national title. While Michigan and other teams wait three full weeks to find out where they will play, Ohio State fans are already booking every flight, hotel room and open ticket. By the time the other team discovers they are going to the title game, they will find most everything already taken." They stood for a moment as they absorbed the information over their beers.
Finally, one of the three said, "Please excuse me while I go puke in the back of the car." He wasn't really throwing up, but he was clearly disgusted. All of them saw the inescapable logic in my comments and recognized that there will be no neutral field – not this year and probably not ever when it comes to Ohio State and a BCS game.
Michigan, USC, or Florida – whoever faces Ohio State will find they are outnumbered. My estimate is that at least 60 percent of the crowd will be Buckeyes, and it may even be higher considering the stakes. Prior to the 2006 Fiesta, much noise was made about Notre Dame's fans traveling well and perhaps outnumbering the Buckeyes. But when the stadium filled, the Fighting Irish were a distinct minority. Estimating their portion of the crowd at 40 percent is more than generous; it's borderline dishonest. They probably made up about one-third of those in the stands on the evening, and it was as obvious as a wart on the end of your nose when Ohio State needed noise to disrupt Brady Quinn and the Irish offense – the crowd was overwhelmingly Buckeye.
6. There is a (perhaps) faulty assumption that Michigan is clearly the No. 2 team in the nation.
For starters, as any person who knows college football is aware, in a rivalry, records matter not at all. The more hated the rivalry, the more likely that even if one team is 1-11 and the other is 11-1, that the score will be close.
In 2004, USC had a juggernaut of a team which had not just defeated but absolutely steamrolled the competition. UCLA was a lowly 6-4 with wins over Washington (1-10), San Diego State (4-7), Illinois (3-8), Arizona (3-8), Stanford (4-7), and Oregon (5-6). They were given no shot, but they beat the Trojans on the field. Only a poor call by an official which overturned a touchdown for the Bruins allowed USC to escape 29-24.
Using the logic of ‘they must be the second best team to have played the No. 1 squad so closely,' shouldn't UCLA have been given a rematch in 2004?
We could go on and list a plethora of examples here, but the reality is – the score being close proves nothing. It merely proves Ohio State kept them in the game with three turnovers and multiple blown coverages accounting for 17 of the Wolverines' points. Toss in Ohio State's fumble on Michigan's 31, and you have at least 20 points. What could have been a 45-22 game turned into a 42-39 result. Nor does this take into account the way Buckeye coach Jim Tressel manages a football game. With Ohio State up 11 with just minutes remaining, the Buckeyes decided to make Michigan drive the ball down the field and eat clock. They were willing to give up a touchdown if it meant they could run out the clock and win in regulation. Ohio State did give up the touchdown but as Tressel gambled, the Buckeyes held on and won the game.
Also proving very little is the schedule of the Wolverines. The Big Ten is clearly down in 2006. Other than pummeling Notre Dame and beating Wisconsin who have the Wolverines defeated? Remember, Notre Dame has two seasons in the last 13 years where they managed 10 wins, and they haven't won a bowl since Jan. 1, 1994, when Lou Holtz was their head coach. They are on their fourth head coach since that date and have not finished ranked in the top 10 in the coaches' poll since 1993. Beating the Irish is like beating up a loud mouthed, offensive 98 pound weakling – it may be a lot of fun and entertaining to the masses, but anyone worth their salt can do it. Vanderbilt (4-8), Central Michigan (7-4), and Ball State (4-7) are nice and all, but I'm not sold on that schedule. Their schedule stands in contrast to the other would-be contenders we will address below.
5. Michigan's defense was exposed.
Pundits raved about the Wolverines, and I was one of them. I believed the Buckeyes would be fortunate to break 75 yards rushing on the afternoon. However, Ohio State largely did what they wanted, when they wanted, and how they wanted. The Buckeyes threw short passes, long passes, screen passes, slants, etc., etc., etc. Troy Smith tossed touchdowns to no less than four receivers and he spread the ball out so much that eight different players had receptions on the day.
On the ground, Ohio State ripped off 187 yard rushing, and Michigan, who prided themselves on their rush defense, had no answer for Chris Wells or Antonio Pittman. Even when it was clear the Buckeyes were trying to run out the clock, they ran Pittman three times – for a first down.
Unless Michigan comes up with better players between now and January (or Ohio State players relax and lose their focus) what evidence is there to suggest the result will change?
Sure, everyone says, "If we could only play them again we would fix the mistakes and win." But, really, what evidence is there to suggest this is the case? The difficulty for Michigan is Ohio State simply has better personnel at this point in time. Michigan's defensive line is impressive and pressured Smith, but that is not enough. He proved that on Saturday. He simply stood in the pocket and took the hit while delivering the pass or spun out of the pocket and created – as was the case with Brian Robiskie's reception and run.
Maybe Michigan would win a rematch. But if they did, it would be more likely due to a lack of focus and/or mistakes by Ohio State than because they were the better team.
It might be some object and want to label this article nothing more than a homer piece from a site that covers Ohio State. They should feel free to do so, but then again – 503 yards of offense surrendered, 6.4 yards per rush average, and 6 of 11 on third down conversions speaks pretty loudly. It is also interesting that Ohio State put up 42 points and could have tried for more with the clock ticking down. The Buckeyes scored over 40 only three other times this season – against teams like Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern. In their entire season, only against Indiana did the Buckeyes have a higher yards per rush average (6.9).
Michigan could win in a rematch? Perhaps, but since when is sports about rematches? Isn't the whole point that the two teams played to decide who was best, and Ohio State won the game? Who needs the BCS when the teams literally just played in their last game?
4. This game was not as close as people believe. Michigan had only one opportunity to take the lead after the first quarter.
Michigan's opening drive was a splash of cold water to the Buckeyes. Whether they came out overly emotional or the Wolverines were simply executing better is not certain, but what is a fact is Michigan went up 7-0 with a drive that traveled 80 yards and took just 2:28 off the clock. The crowd was nervous and didn't know what to make of it.
Were the Buckeyes overrated? Would this be another John Cooper special like 1993, 1995 and 1996? Would this be just like 2003 when Michigan cleaned the collective Buckeye clock in Ann Arbor 35-21 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates?
For their part the Buckeyes were not rattled in the least; they scored the next 21 points. Michigan countered with a touchdown drive helped by a questionable call on fourth down, but then Smith drove the Buckeyes back down the field in just 2:04 before the half to put Ohio State up 28-14.
Michigan, thanks to dropped passes and a terrible punt by A.J. Trapasso, closed to within 7 and then brought the margin down to 4 when an errant Smith pass at his own end of the field gave them a perfect opportunity. They wasted the chance but did manage a field goal. Two offensive plays later, Pittman broke a 56 yard run right up the middle and only stopped when he reached the end zone; Ohio State was back up by 11 points, and Michigan would never again have the football with the chance to take the lead.
Ohio State ended the game with a first down on the Michigan 40.
3. A rematch would break 103 years of tradition and even college football history.
The whole point of a rivalry game is you don't get another shot. This is part of what makes college football unique. They don't play a best out of three in a weekend series, like in baseball. They don't get a rematch later in the season – like in basketball.
No, a loss to the hated rival means you wait another 12 full months before a shot at a rematch.
Never in the history of The Game has another team been given a second chance after falling short the first time around. Never in the history of The Game have these two been matched up in a bowl. Imagine the glee of Woody Hayes if he could have played Michigan again in 1969. Imagine what it might have done for John Cooper's job security if he had another shot at Michigan in 1995 or 1996. Ohio State had the better team by far each of those three seasons but was upset by the Wolverines and as a result lost a national title. Or, what about Lloyd Carr in 2001 – when Michigan undoubtedly had better personnel? Does anyone think Bo might have liked a rematch in 1972 or 1974? He took undefeated, untied teams into Columbus and lost both to lesser teams.
No, if you believe in the sanctity of the sport and what makes The Game great, you have to be against a rematch. It wouldn't have mattered who won or lost; a rematch is a desecration of all that these programs have held dear.
To force them to play again in their very next game is to rob this rivalry of something it may never get back.
2. A rematch cheapens one of the greatest games in college football.
This is one of those titanic games that you see (if you are lucky) once in person and maybe half a dozen times in a lifetime on television. 1935 Ohio State-Notre Dame, 1966 Michigan State-Notre Dame, 1969 Arkansas-Texas, 1971 Oklahoma-Nebraska and the 1988 Notre Dame-Florida State game – these are the kind of company last Saturday's tilt will keep company with in the coming decades.
None of these contests had a rematch, and that is part of what makes them great.
Let's take this a step further however, and ask a legitimate question, "If there is a rematch, please tell me the value of Ohio State's win. Yes, they won a Big Ten title, but why is it Michigan gets a mulligan – and would Ohio State have been given this same chance?"
Who will win the national title if Michigan gets their mulligan and wins by one point in Tempe? It would only be fair to split it, but pollsters probably won't. They will likely lay the laurels on Michigan – who despite going 1-1 against the No. 1 team will be given the title.
Serious question - does this mean it only counts if Michigan wins?
If Michigan were to win in January, would Ohio State then get their shot at a rematch in a best of three?
If the answer is no, then there should be no rematch. Either make this fair and equal in a way that credits Ohio State with their victory without robbing the sport of a classic game, or don't have a rematch at all.
1. Michigan had their shot. Now they should allow another team to have theirs.
There are currently no less than six one-loss teams aside from Michigan – every one of which lost before Michigan (aside from Rutgers). Boise State is undefeated.
That group needs whittled down a bit, so here we go.
Rutgers, and Louisville should be excluded as members of the Big East. If their membership there were not enough on its own, their preconference slates make the ‘Sisters of the Blind' look like a good team. Weak schedules should not be rewarded.
Boise State has a solid team, but again – they play a less than impressive schedule. If they wish to be considered for a BCS title game, then the simple answer is to improve their preconference games. Were they to play and defeat teams like Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Texas, etc. then they should be given consideration for a national title.
This leaves Wisconsin, Florida, and USC.
Wisconsin can likely be eliminated for its loss to Michigan, though Wisconsin could make the claim if Michigan deserves a rematch so do they. They were close to covering the spread and had to play in Ann Arbor.
The contenders still standing are USC and Florida. Take a gander at their schedules. Each has faced with their lone loss in italics and remaining games in bold:
Florida: Southern Miss (8-4), UCF (4-8), Tennessee (9-3), Kentucky (7-5), Alabama (6-6), LSU (10-2), Auburn (10-2), Georgia (8-4), Vanderbilt (4-8), South Carolina (7-5), Western Carolina (2-9), Florida State (6-6), Arkansas (10-2)
USC: Arkansas (10-2), Nebraska (9-3), Arizona (6-6), Washington State (6-6), Washington (5-7), Arizona State (7-5), Oregon State (8-4), Stanford (1-10), Oregon (7-5), California (8-3), Notre Dame (10-2), UCLA (6-5)
In sum, every one of these teams (if they win out) will have victories over at least one team with 10 wins, one with 9 wins, and a third with 8 wins (or more). In the case of USC, they will have wins over two 10-win teams and at least two others with 8 wins or more.
These are the equal of (or in the case of USC – better than) Michigan's schedule whose wins against Penn State (8-4), Wisconsin (11-1), and Notre Dame (10-2) are their claim to fame.
In the end, this needs to play out. If Florida or USC win the rest of their games, then they should be given first crack at Ohio State. They have played difficult schedules in tough BCS conferences. They have notched multiple quality wins and shown marked improvement since their last loss.
Only if they both lose down the stretch will it be time to bring on the Wolverines in a rematch. Otherwise, Michigan had their opportunity, squandered it, and they should only get another shot at the Buckeyes in November 2007.