When Terrance Taylor decided to return for his senior season on the Michigan football team, he had some unfinished business.
“I didn’t feel right leaving without my degree and leaving without beating Ohio State,” Taylor said. “It just didn’t sit right with me.”
He still has a chance to go 2-for-2.
Taylor said the degree will come in December. For him and the rest of Michigan’s seniors, the final chance against the Buckeyes (6-1 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) will come Saturday in Columbus. Michigan has lost four in a row to Ohio State, and a loss Saturday would be Michigan’s longest losing streak in the history of the rivalry.
This hasn’t been the swan song the seniors envisioned when they decided to go to Michigan. The arrival of Rich Rodriguez thrust the program into its most drastic coaching transition in 40 years.
The chance of a bowl game and a winning season disappeared three weeks ago. Hopes of a conference championship ended well before that.
But beyond the on-field disappointment, the seniors have assumed leadership roles in an unfamiliar system. Some of the changes might seem trivial, but they’re not for players who spent three years in a different culture.
There used to be no curfew. Now, there is a 10 p.m. curfew some nights.
During team dinners, the upperclassmen used to make new players and coaches sing. Now, they have a gong show before the season where the freshmen perform.
The players used to wear suits before the games. Now, they wear warm-ups.
The team used to be free to use cell phones at Schembechler Hall. Now, only the coaches can.
“It’s different good,” Taylor said of the changes, before lowering his head and bursting into laughter.
The laughter brings back memories of clashes between Taylor and the new coaching staff, especially during spring practice. But he has moved past those differences and emerged as one of the team’s vocal leaders.
“I just wanted to be part of a process to show the new class and the new recruits that this is what Michigan is about,” Taylor said. “This is how we handle business. This is what we don’t do, and this is what we do.”
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr used to tell the team Michigan football stories, like the significance of the winged helmet, which was implemented by former coach Fritz Crisler so his quarterback could see his downfield receivers. He also told the story of the Little Brown Jug, which ignited a rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota when a Wolverine left a water jug on the field in 1903.
“Coach Rod had given a brief summary of the Little Brown Jug,” Taylor said. “What Coach Carr would do, he would tell the whole story. He would give the names of the trainers.”
Rodriguez hasn’t been at Michigan very long, and can’t be expected to recount all 129 years of Michigan lore.
But there are some aspects of the Michigan football team that everyone knows, even for those who haven’t been here long at all.
One of those traditions is the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. In fact, the news flash came on Rodriguez’s first day when someone sent him a “Beat OSU” button. It sits next to his phone, as a reminder.
“Just because I don’t say something about that on my first day on the job doesn’t mean I don’t understand the importance of the game,” Rodriguez said.
This year’s Michigan squad (2-5, 3-8) is the biggest underdog in the rivalry’s history.
The Wolverines will start a quarterback who had no scholarship offers coming out of high school. The Buckeyes’ starting quarterback was the nation’s top-ranked recruit last year. Michigan has set a school record for losses in a season, and Ohio State could go to the Rose Bowl if they win and Penn State loses tomorrow.
But this is still the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
“Until you’re there and you see it with your own two eyes, it’s totally different,” Taylor said. “I really don’t know. I can’t get inside (Rodriguez’s) head to tell you how much he fully understands it. But until you’re there, it’s just kind of different from what you see on film.”
At the end of his 45-minute talk with the media Monday, Taylor was asked if he has any guarantees for the rivalry game.
“No, I don’t got a —,” Taylor started.
Then, he paused and continued with confidence.
“Yeah, I’ve got a guarantee for you. I’m going to play my heart out, and I’m pretty sure other seniors can guarantee that.”