A rivalry often touted as the greatest in sports has been reduced to a blip on the radar for anybody residing outside of Ohio and Michigan.
In the past, ESPN would have a daily OSU-Michigan update on Sportscenter during the week of The Game. However, there was hardly any mention of the game last week on the national sports network.
I’ve been fortunate to attend many OSU-Michigan games over the years, both in Columbus and in Ann Arbor. The atmosphere in Saturday’s 42-7 Buckeye rout certainly lacked the ferocity of any previous game I have attended.
Walking to the parking lot after the game, I even witnessed an Ohio State fan offer a “don’t worry, you guys will be back” condolence to a guy dressed in a blue Michigan coat. That would never of happened a few years ago.
There are several reasons for the rivalry losing some of its luster. The Big Ten’s reputation on a national level has taken a hit, and games with more national implications like Saturday’s Oklahoma-Texas Tech contest are overshadowing OSU vs. Michigan.
Making the biggest impact on The Game, though, is Ohio State’s recent dominance. Jim Tressel is now 7-1 against Michigan, including five straight victories over the Wolverines.
Just like during the John Cooper years, when the Buckeyes won only two games in 13 years, the rivalry has become one-sided. When one team is winning all the time, a rivalry is going to begin losing its relevance on the national stage. Imagine if North Carolina beat Duke 10 straight times in basketball. Nobody outside of North Carolina would care to watch.
It’s now up to Rich Rodriguez to make the OSU-Michigan rivalry what it once was. Rich Rod’s transition was a mess this year. The Wolverines finished 3-9, snapped their streak of 33 straight bowl appearances and lost the most games in school history. Michigan couldn’t even beat Toledo, which won only two games in the Mid American Conference this fall.
Saturday’s outcome was the epitome of the Wolverines’ season. They played well at times, but just did not have enough talent and good coaching to sustain it for the course of the game.
If he wants to last in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez must clean up that train wreck of a team real quick. He also must figure out how to beat the Buckeyes. Unlike Tressel, who made his now famous “In 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan” speech at a basketball game when he was hired, Rodriguez has yet to publicly embrace the rivalry.
When questioned about the importance of the OSU game last week, Rodriguez said he keeps a “Beat OSU” button on his desk next to his phone to remind himself how big the game is. It’s going to take more than having a button on his desk to make Michigan a factor again in the rivalry.
Cooper came to Ohio State with southern roots and never completely understood the OSU-Michigan rivalry. Rodriguez, who also does not have any Big Ten roots, must quickly figure it out. If not he does not, he will not have a job, and The Game will be turned into just another game.