Michigan and Ohio State will collide for
the 100th time this week, but that number will mean little on
Saturday. This game is more about the rivalry’s future than
its past.

Janna Hutz

This clash of Big Ten titans has been cyclical — one team
leaves the other looking up from the ground, until the weaker team
takes over and becomes the strong. That ebb and flow is often
defined by — and at the same time, has defined — the
coaches. This game could be one of those pivotal points that
determines whose time is now.

It wasn’t much of a rivalry at all in the 1950s and 60s
— Ohio State won 9 of 12 from 1957 to 1968. Enter Bo
Schembechler, and a new era in the rivalry. The rookie coach
stunned Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes in ’69, ending their
22-game wining streak and beginning an epic 10-year brawl.

“Of course, the ’69 game has always been a great
remembrance, because it was Woody’s greatest team,”
Schembechler said this week. “He admitted that. We beat them
here. But I think the fact that we were able to win that game
really set the tone here for my program. That will always be in the
back of my mind, the way that turned out.”

By the late ’80s, Michigan began to dominate again, and
that eventually cost Ohio State coach John Cooper his job. He went
2-10-1 in his 13 years at the helm. Meanwhile, Lloyd Carr took over
as Michigan coach in 1995 and led the team to mediocre four-loss
records in his first two years. His saving grace? He beat Ohio
State both seasons, ending the Buckeyes’ hopes of a national
title both times.

Jim Tressel replaced Cooper in 2001 and, like Schembechler in
1969, Tressel won his first encounter with the enemy. That has
defined his tenure so far and may very well be as meaningful to his
career as Bo’s first game was.

Which is part of why this year’s game is so big. Tressel
came in with the goal of beating Michigan, and so far he’s
done just that. He has his Buckeyes in position to reclaim this
rivalry.

The Buckeyes are defending national champs and have lost just
once in their last 25 games. Michigan, on the other hand, has
slipped from the pedestal that the two teams once shared. The
Wolverines haven’t won a Big Ten title outright since 1997
and have lost at least three games in each of the past three
seasons.

But it’s widely held that it is the rivalry with Ohio
State that defines Michigan teams.

“You ask the guys, ‘How many times did you beat Ohio
State?’ ” Schembechler said. “If you want to be
recognized around here as a coach or a player, you beat Ohio
State.”

And lately, the Wolverines haven’t done that. A Michigan
loss this week would mean three straight defeats at the hands of
Ohio State. That hasn’t happened since before Bo’s days
— the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines four consecutive years
from 1960-1963.

“I don’t think anything that happened last year has
anything to do with this game,” Carr said. “I think
they’re a great football team. They are Ohio State. And
Michigan-Ohio State is the greatest rivalry in college football. So
I don’t think you need anything more than that.”

He’s right. But for rivalries to thrive, there has to be
give-and-take. And the Buckeyes haven’t given anything
lately. If Ohio State wins Saturday, Tressel will have done in
three years what Cooper couldn’t do in 13 — beat
Michigan three times and turn the tide back in favor of Ohio
State.

Courtney Lewis can be reached at
“mailto:cmlewis@umich.edu”>cmlewis@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

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