Of course, Michigan would like to this year, given that at 3-8 it has already set the school's single-season record for most losses. Is a ninth in the cards in Columbus?
I would actually say that history says yes. In fact, I think this would be the biggest upset – on paper – in the illustrious 105-game history of the rivalry.
As far as I can tell, there just isn't any past precedent that shows a team as bad as this Michigan team can actually win a game in the rivalry.
Here's some research I did for the print edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin that starts to back up my point:
The last time any team entered the game with a losing record was in 1988 when the Buckeyes were 4-5-1 in John Cooper's first season. The Scarlet and Gray played hard during its end-of-season rivalry contest, but Michigan still escaped with a 34-31 win in Columbus.
Michigan last entered the game with a losing record in 1967 under Chalmers Elliott (probably better known as "Bump"). The Wolverines were 4-5 and then added another loss to OSU, going down in Michigan Stadium by a 24-14 score.
The last time the two teams entered with one sporting six more wins than the other was in 1947, when Michigan was 8-0 under Fritz Crisler and Wes Fesler's Buckeyes were 2-5-1. The favored team won that one, as well, taking a 21-0 blanking in Ann Arbor.
In other words, the most recent analogous situations I could find to this game all show the favorites leaving with another notch in the "W" column.
Other people have tried to point to some of the more famous upsets in the series as a reason Michigan could triumph this year, but most of those games weren't nearly as big of mismatches on paper as this one is.
For example, many people point to the 2001 game as a similar contest as this one. Ohio State had a first-year head coach and a largely unknown quarterback, while Michigan entered ranked 11th in the country with two losses and on the way to a major bowl. Ohio State, 310 days after Jim Tressel's famous speech, earned a 26-20 win in Ann Arbor.
There are plenty of corollaries between 2001 and 2008, but that Ohio State team was much better than this Michigan team is. The Buckeyes won seven regular-season games that year and made a bowl game. In addition, they were in the running for the Big Ten title until a loss the week before against No. 12 Illinois.
Some people go much further back to the famed 1969 upset. Going into the game, Ohio State was No. 1 and had won 22 games in a row. Most people agreed that it was Woody Hayes' best team and some were calling it the best in the history of the sport. On the other sideline was a first-year Michigan head coach in Glenn E. "Bo" Schembechler, and the irascible coach orchestrated a 24-12 upset that is still talked about to this day.
One OSU staffer, who was around then, told me Monday that there should be no debate on the biggest upset in the history of the series because that is clearly it.
But I might have to differ. I wasn't around then, but Michigan entered that game ranked 12th in the country. The Wolverines finished 8-3 and made the Rose Bowl, where they lost a hard-fought 10-3 decision to No. 5 USC. They certainly weren't a doormat like this year's squad.
To further illustrate my point, here's a list I've patently stolen from a story written by Doug Lesmerises of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. I was going to do this research on my own, but Doug did it first, so I send a huge thank you his way for saving me some time and effort. Here's a reciprocal link to Doug's work at the PD.
Here are the biggest upsets since 1951, when a ranked team lost to an unranked team or a team in the top two ranked to a team ranked much lower.
** 1952: No. 12 Michigan (5-3) vs. Ohio State (5-3): Ohio State wins 27-7
** 1969: No. 1 Ohio State (8-0) vs. No. 12 Michigan (7-2): Michigan wins 24-12
** 1981: No. 7 Michigan (8-2) vs. Ohio State (7-3): Ohio State wins 14-9
** 1982: No. 13 Michigan (8-2) vs. Ohio State (7-3): Ohio State wins 24-14
** 1993: No. 5 Ohio State (9-0-1) vs. Michigan (6-4): Michigan wins 28-0
** 1995: No. 2 Ohio State (11-0) vs. No. 18 Michigan (8-3): Michigan wins 31-23
** 1996: No. 2 Ohio State (10-0) vs. No. 21 Michigan (7-3): Michigan wins 13-9
** 2001: No. 11 Michigan (8-2) vs. Ohio State (6-4): Ohio State wins 26-20
** 2004: No. 7 Michigan (9-1) vs. Ohio State (6-4): Ohio State wins 37-21
Notice one thing about the teams that made such giant upsets: None had a losing record going into the game. None was even at .500 for the year.
And that is why I conclude that should Michigan win Saturday, it would be a nearly unprecedented accomplishment in the series. Only time will tell if this is one case in which you shouldn't throw out the records, but I'm thinking that it will be.
Return To St. John
It seems like this has been a boring Michigan week – not that there was much potential for excitement.
With the Wolverines entering at 3-8, it's been hard for most Ohio State fans to get into the action because a win over the Maize and Blue has been assumed.
On our front, there just isn't simply much to report – just the way Jim Tressel likes it, to be sure. It would be easier – and probably less dangerous to one's job security – to get national security secrets out of the Pentagon than to find out and then report on what's going on in practice during Michigan week.
In addition, this year's Monday interviews for reporters seemed to have been crafted with the aim of preventing anything controversial from coming out. Reporters were not allowed to talk to important players like Terrelle Pryor or Chris Wells or an interesting quote like Alex Boone, who might have been likely to say something out of the ordinary.
The format of the interviews also doesn't lend to truly interesting banter. About five players were out at a time for what I would guess was about 75 media members, and all are seated behind a table, which isn't a pose that leads to in-depth conversation. There are very few chances to get into an in-depth discussion with a player that could result in something interesting coming out.
I didn't come here to complain, as you certainly don't want to hear it and it's not worth my time anyway. My point is that it's hard for us as beat writers to come up with any ideas that are out-of-the-norm, which hasn't helped drum up interest for one of the less glamorous editions in the rivalry for years.
I was disappointed, then, to see that malaise seep over to the basketball court Thursday night during Ohio State's season-opening 70-42 win against Delaware State. Because of a scheduling conflict, the game was held at St. John Arena.
Now, to me, that should be recipe for an exciting atmosphere. Not only was the contest the first chance to watch what could be an electrifying Buckeye team on the hardwood for a real game, it was a chance for fans to return to the historic St. John Arena venue that so many seem to love.
Instead, the atmosphere had about as much life as the parrot in the famed Monty Python sketch. Only 6,388 fans showed up, and the noise quotient in the building with such famed acoustics was pretty low.
I know it was snowing lightly in Columbus, and I know the game started at the odd time of 6:30, and I know the game wasn't part of any season-ticket packages, and I know the pull of Kelly Clarkson and Reba McEntire over at Value City Arena was very strong on most basketball fans … but 6,000-plus fans in St. John Arena? Come on!
I'm beginning to wonder just how much Columbus cage fans miss the old barn. Last year, I seem to remember a similar attendance for a non-league game against VMI in the old barn.
For years I've criticized Value City Arena as being soulless and stale, but perhaps progress has passed me by. Most people I talk to would love to see Ohio State play multiple games in St. John each year, but then again, most of them are sportswriters. Maybe most fans would rather sit in a comfortable chair in a nicer building than return to the past. I don't know.
What I'd like to see is Ohio State go all-out one of these years for a return game in St. John. Make it a Big Ten game – it doesn't have to be against a power, just someone people can find on a map – and go the extra nine yards. Advertise the game like crazy. Make it part of season ticket packages. Bring back some famous names each year. It could be a way to honor the long and excellent history of OSU basketball.
I think it would be a night most people would look forward to every year and properly honor the wonderful building, which is starting to show its age and might not be long for this campus. And if people don't get into it, well, then it might just be time to say a permanent good-bye.
Play Of The Week
I've noticed this column has taken many twists and turns throughout the year. Some columns have been based purely on research I've done on topics that have interested me – which was the original intent of the blog, to pass on more information from a different angle than most people were used to – but other weeks, I've adopted a more personal tone and brought more opinions to the table.
This week's entry is certainly the latter, and I'll keep it up here in the Play Of The Week section. Not surprisingly, this week's play is Wells' leap over Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman, and it's hard to discuss such a play without showing some sort of wonder.
Upon watching the replay, I noticed that Beanie leaps nearly 5 yards not to mention about five feet in the air to get over the would-be tackler. While walking across the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on the way out from interviews Monday, I stopped at one of the yard lines and imagined leaping 5 yards like Wells did. All I could do was imagine because there's no way I could possibly ever do it.
To set up the play, Ohio State came out on first down from its own 30-yard line early in the third quarter with three wideouts, two to the right side. Wells was in the ace formation in the backfield, though the tight end did come in motion and ended up on the right side behind the guard and tackle.
At the snap, Ohio State sets up a perfect cutback lane. The play looks designed to go left, so Illinois' linebackers begin to shuffle that way. The left defensive tackle is blocked down by RG Steve Rehring, opening up that side of the play. Bryant Browning gets a piece of the end on that side before moving to the second level, and the tight end cleans up said D-end.
The tackle Rehring is blocking down gets a small amount of penetration across his face, getting to about the 29, but all that does is make it obvious to Wells that he has plenty of room to the right. He makes the cut at the 28 and has lots of daylight; the middle and weakside linebackers can't get there in time after starting left, and Wells sprints by the strongside LB (Sam Carson) as the slot receiver (Brian Hartline) gets a piece of him.
Now Wells is in some open field, but as he hits the 35 he sees Hardeman coming. The junior tailback must sense Hardeman will go low, as he begins the jump sequence by planting his right foot at the 37 and taking a big step with his left to the 39. He then pushes off with the left foot and soars through the air and over Hardeman, who begins to duck and dive forward from the 42.
Hardeman lands near the 40 as Wells skies, his left foot landing at the 43 and his right at the 44. As everyone present stares in disbelief, Wells gets to the 50, cuts outside and is brought down from behind at the Illinois 45 as Terrelle Pryor races downfield looking to make a block.