Cus Words: Spirit(s) In The Sky

One had to think of Norman Greenbaum when watching the latest OSU-Michigan tussle. What other kind of game could Woody and Bo have dreamed up? We ponder that, how amazing it is when Ohio State players finally speak their minds and what tricks the BCS has up its sleeve. We also rank the conference teams one last time and suggest some weekend viewing options.

What we learned last week (part 1):

Ghosts need at least a year to craft a script.

Bo Schembechler died Nov. 17, 2006, and 365 days later he and his mentor, Woody Hayes, must have loved watching from their celestial perch as their former teams slugged it out in a game that could just as easily have taken place in the 1970s as it did in 2007.

What a contrast from the previous contest between these rivals this turned out to be.

Last season as Bo and Woody were just getting reacquainted with each other, their old teams committed numerous blasphemies.

They threw the ball all over the place – first down, second down or third down, take your pick.

There were tricky plays and spread formations – an obvious dearth of fullbacks on the field most of the day.

Seventeen more passes than runs between the two teams.

Shoot, Ohio State deployed more receivers at one time than Hayes might have had on his whole roster, and in perfect late November weather 81 points and nearly 1,000 yards piled up.

This year, though, there would be none of that.

Although Jim Tressel and his offensive coordinator Jim Bollman agreed they wanted a balanced offense, the weather made sure there were other plans.

A constant drizzle made both the turf and the pigskin slick and the cold perhaps made hands stiff.

One year after Bo's death, could this be a coincidence?

How else could old friends and aficionados of conservative football have wanted it?

Well if that was indeed the case, if Woody and Bo dialed up the kind of day that would bring about their favorite kind of football, the old man with the Block ‘O' cap pulled the wool over the eyes of his favorite old foe.

Hayes finally got some revenge for that 1969 debacle, or perhaps the three-game losing streak on which he concluded the 10 Year War.

Why do I say that?

Because Michigan, in its current incarnation, is not good enough to beat Ohio State at that type of game, be it because of God-given ability, want-to, coaching or all of the above.

Line the Buckeyes and Wolverines up from tackle to tackle, throw in a tight end or two, some linebackers and a couple backs to run and block and you might find higher rated recruits in maize and blue but the better players are more often in scarlet and gray.

That much was proven again Saturday.

The Buckeyes junked the passing game and the Wolverines loaded the box as a result, but still Chris Wells found yards. He got good blocking from his men up front and beat the unblocked man often enough when he needed to.

Yes, the young man they call Beanie was better than the ones trying to stop him, and the guys running interference for him were not too bad, either. The result was a 200-yard day.

Going the other way, the Ohio State defense stopped Michigan in its tracks even without the luxury of anticipating the run.

Could the Wolverines have used a healthy Mike Hart? Of course. But his backups could have just as easily taken advantage of the holes he got when Michigan moved the ball early. They would have gone just as far in the tight quarters that resulted from the OSU defensive front tightening things up the rest of the way.

What about a healthy Chad Henne? Yes, he misfired on some passes, but every time he or Ryan Mallett went deep, the Buckeyes made the plays they needed to make. And that plethora of dropped passes? I don't recall that many of them would have been for first downs or significant gains anyway.

To look at it another way, Ohio State whipped Michigan without even attacking the Wolverines' biggest weakness: their defensive backfield.

Maybe Woody convinced Bo that the only way his Wolverines could have won was a low-scoring defensive battle, but those games are won with toughness and talent – no flukes allowed – and we have seen all decade which team has more of both attributes.

It was proven again last Saturday in Ann Arbor.


What we learned last week (part 2):

These Buckeyes do, in fact, have some personality.

They did their best all season – and in particular during Michigan week – to keep quiet, always respecting the next task at hand, and that is what they should do. It is reflective of their head coach and good sportsmanship in general.

But these are college kids, after all, and it was refreshing to see them let loose a bit in the overcrowded postgame interview room in Ann Arbor.

By now I'm sure you have heard right tackle Kirk Barton's reaction – "Three guys all turned down the NFL so they could come back and beat us and ride off into the sunset, but a funny thing happened on the way to the sunset" – but that how about Malcolm Jenkins?

When asked if he could relate to how Michigan seniors Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long were feeling, the OSU cornerback was honest.

"It has to be horrible, especially when you base your whole season around going to the national championship, beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten and you don't accomplish any of them," Jenkins said with a wide grin on his face. "That has to be horrible, especially when you come back for your senior year. I couldn't imagine being on that end, and I'm glad I'm not."

Asked if his enjoyment of the historic win was enhanced by the Wolverines' misery, he said, "Probably."

After a second's more contemplation, he sounded surer.

"Yeah, it does, especially after all the things that have been said about our defense and our team. To prove everybody wrong and get this win, we're going to bask in everything. We're happy, and if they're not, then oh well."

Any sign of sympathy?

"I would say I feel bad, but I don't," Jenkins said. "It's great for us to win four years in a row. They probably don't feel too good about it, but it's great for us to be able to look and say we got four gold pants in a row. Hopefully we can continue this streak."

No taunting, just honest emotion. I guess they never stray too far from the coach's influence, but a little variety is always nice.


What might we learn this week:

How will the BCS screw up this time?

I mean, it is inevitable, and for a simple reason.

Two is almost never the exact and total of teams deserving a title shot at the end of a college football season.

For those keeping score, clear-cut Nos. 1 and 2 have emerged three times in nine years of the current system.

Coincidentally or not, all three of those years featured matchups of unbeaten teams: 1999 (Florida State and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl), 2002 (Ohio State and Miami in the Fiesta Bowl) and 2005 (Texas and USC in the Rose Bowl).

That's a .333 rate of success: pretty good for a baseball player but not in many other walks of life.

Count this writer as one looking for that to drop to an even .300 in a couple of weeks.

Why?

Because the three best conferences are the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot.

That being said, the most deserving championship game participants are likely to come out of those leagues, especially with only Kansas left undefeated in the BCS leagues. That doesn't mean a team from the ACC, Big Ten or Big East could not lay claim to No. 1 or 2, but if it does it will not have played the schedule survived by any winner of one of the top three leagues.

The trouble is last week made this anybody's game again, for the better or worse of the task of finding the two best teams in the land.

Oregon's loss not only knocked the Ducks out of title contention but perhaps dealt a critical blow to the last team with any chance in its conference. Arizona State may be 9-1, but the Sun Devils' loss to Oregon is proof ASU was not the best team in its own conference for the majority of the year. That would be Oregon with a healthy Dixon.

Similarly, Oklahoma's loss hurt the resume of the last two Big 12 teams in the mix, Kansas in particular. With no quality wins to date, the Jayhawks need as many as they can get. Beating Missouri this weekend would be nice, but now a win over Oklahoma (or vastly overrated Texas if the Longhorns win this week and Oklahoma loses again) will not look as good if the Sooners are less than full strength. Then Missouri, which can claim a quality win from out of conference over Illinois, would be in a similar situation as Arizona State.

To qualify for the BCS title game, the Tigers would have a win over a Kansas team that would have turned out to have beaten no one and a win over a Sooner squad weaker than the one it already lost to or that overrated Texas team previously mentioned.

And I didn't even speculate on what happens if LSU does not take care of business. The Tigers have not been earning many style points this season, but neither did Tennessee in 1998, OSU in 2002 or Florida last season.

They certainly could lose to Arkansas or in the SEC title game as well, but their resume is rock solid.

So who would you rather have playing for the crystal football?

Going undefeated is difficult, even if it is not against the toughest schedule in the land, so we automatically upgrade our opinion of any team that wins all its games. Without that fallback, we are really in trouble this season.

The trouble is rating these teams is such an inexact science. The eyeball test (as in, who just looks better) is too subjective, but the lack of crossover scheduling makes it so that there is virtually nothing tangible with which to compare teams at the microscopic level required to find two and only two qualifiers.

Sure we can probably rest assured that the top 10 teams should all be there, but getting the order just right is another matter entirely.

Thank goodness we built in the idea that going undefeated is a near-automatic validation of a team's quality. Without that bit of idiot proofing for the system, we might be 1 for 9.


All-Buckeye Beater Team Nominees:

Talk about an easy week of picking.

When a team fails to hit triple digits in total yards, it is safe to say no offensive player will qualify.

The Michigan defense? Four players finished with double-digit tackle totals. Well…what do you expect when a team runs the ball 59 times?

But never fear, Wolverine fans. There was one player whose performance we could not ignore.

Punter Zoltan Mesko was fantastic, and Michigan needed him to be since he punted 12 times. Three of those boots gave the Buckeyes a start inside their own 20, and that 68-yarder was a thing of beauty.

Look for the final selections of the second annual All-Buckeye Beaters Team on BuckeyeSports.com in December.


DVR this weekend:

The DVR might not be needed unless the holiday weekend has you in transit or you are one of the lucky ones to be following a team still alive in the high school football playoffs.

USC and Arizona State play Thursday night,

Arkansas travels to LSU Friday afternoon, West Virginia hosts UConn Saturday afternoon and Kansas and Missouri square off Saturday night.

No excuse to miss scouting any of the Buckeyes' potential bowl partners.

Oh, and for those high school football followers? Don't miss Cincinnati St. Xavier taking on Dublin Coffman. That Division I state semifinal is on SportsTime Ohio live Saturday night.


But, if you are ready for basketball season…

Both the men's and women's teams from Ohio State return to St. John Arena this weekend (and this weekend only).

The 15th-ranked women play host to the annual Buckeye Classic Saturday and Sunday. After facing Colgate at 2 p.m. Saturday, they likely draw No. 24 Auburn on Sunday. Should both the Buckeyes and Tigers win (Auburn faces Winston Salem at noon Saturday), they will play in the event title game at 1 p.m. on day two. The consolation game is at 11 a.m.

At 8 p.m. Sunday night, Thad Matta's crew tips off against VMI.


Cus Words Power Poll
(final regular season edition)

1. Ohio State (Preseason No. 2)
2. Illinois (6)
3. Wisconsin (1)
4. Michigan (3)
5. Michigan State (8)
6. Penn State (4)
7. Indiana (9)
8. Purdue (5)
9. Iowa (7)
10. Northwestern (10)
11. Minnesota (11)

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman@buckeyesports.com.


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