Thursday, November 19, 2009

MICH**** Week!!!

Most of my friends and clients know that I went to The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. I guess that's because almost every piece of outerwear I own has an Ohio State logo on it. And now my poor kids all wear Ohio State stuff too. Even my two-year-old, Huston, runs through the house screaming "O-H..." and gets upset if no one answers, "I-O."

We're less than 48 hours away from the 2009 version The Game, and the rivalry has seen better days. For the Buckeyes, quarterback Terrelle Pryor has not yet lived up to what I think are unrealistic expectations. The guy is 17-3 as a starter and a true sophomore, but some fans and most of the media feel that Terrelle is not yet the player he was forecasted to be out of high school. Personally, I don't think he has to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards per game in order to be successful.

However, criticism of Coach Tressel's conservative play calling may be valid. If Pryor is the most gifted athlete on the field, the Buckeyes have not yet found the magic formula for taking full advantage of his talents. Pryor has looked flustered and awkward in some situations where his raw athletic ability should simply be unleashed. I'm reminded of the Bull Durham line, "Don't think. It can only hurt the ballclub." It's almost as if the Ohio State coaching staff is more interested in Pryor conforming to the team's offensive system, rather than adjusting the scheme to fit his style of play. I think a reasonable combination of both strategies is the best approach.

MICH**** has not yet taken off in the Rich Rodriguez era. Two substandard seasons have left the Wolverines in the unenviable position of having to beat the favored Buckeyes in order to become bowl eligible this year. In addition, there have been allegations of organizational misconduct and an NCAA investigation. In Rodriguez's defense, he inherited a program that was in decline and whose recent recruiting classes were not ideally suited to his offensive scheme. So RichRod has had to rebuild from the ground up and the results on the field have been accordingly mixed.

All of the MICH**** hubris is still readily apparent. The players are confident going into The Game, yet this is a team that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (28.1 points per game), eighth in pass defense (235.5 yard per game), 10th in run defense (164.7) and ninth in total defense (400.2). Of course Ohio State has not lit the world on fire offensively, but one thing the Buckeyes seem to have rediscovered in recent games is how to run the football. Nevertheless this rivalry has demonstrated repeatedly over the years that records and stats don't guarantee the outcome. Ask John Cooper how many times the underdog Wolverines ruined his versions of The Game.

When I moved to Columbus in 1988, the Buckeyes were just wrapping up the Earle Bruce era. Coach Bruce compiled a 81-26-1 record in nine seasons at the helm of the Buckeyes, capping his career with an emotional win over a favored Michigan squad led by Bo Schembechler. Growing up in West Virginia, I was taught that Ohioans were "worthless nuts" and firing a coach with a 0.750 winning percentage seemed to confirm that theory. Then John Cooper arrived with his "it's just another game" mentality toward the annual rivalry. Despite a winning percentage above 0.700, Coach Cooper was fired due to a 2-10-1 record against the team up north.

I started veterinary school in 1994 and finished in 1998. During that stretch, the Buckeyes were a combined 41-10 and boasted stars like Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Orlando Pace, Antoine Winfield, Alonzo Spellman, Robert Smith, Dan Wilkinson, Joey Galloway, Rickey Dudley, Mike Vrabel, Korey Stringer, David Boston, and Shawn Springs. This is when I finally realized that Buckeyes football is a religion in Ohio and I became a devout convert.

Moving to the southeast has been tough for me when it comes to college sports. SEC football and ACC basketball dominate. Fortunately Ohio State is on t.v. nearly every weekend in the fall, but folks down here just don't get the OSU-MICH**** football rivalry. Most of my clients say, "Oh yeah, it's like Carolina vs. Duke." Ummm, no, not really. More than 100,000 fans have tickets to The Game in Columbus or Ann Arbor each fall, but many, many more simply come to town to tailgate and soak up the atmosphere outside the stadiums. Combined enrollment of Ohio State and MICH**** is over 90,000, compared to 35,000 for UNC and Duke. Two states (OH & MI) with a total population of 21,367,565 are literally at each others' throats on the third Saturday of November. Ohio State/MICH**** is unlike any other rivalry in college sports.

The other tough thing about living in the south is that SEC football has OWNED Big Ten football in the past 5 to 10 years. I'm sick and tired of hearing, "What happened to your Buckeyes in the National Championship?" Of course, there is rarely a head-to-head matchup outside of the bowl games and the bowls are played in warm weather venues. But there is no denying that the SEC plays a fast, aggressive style of football that often makes Big Ten teams look slow and antiquated. I wonder, however, what a November game in Columbus or Ann Arbor would do to the high-powered offenses of Florida, Alabama, and LSU. Credit to the Big 12 and the Pac 10... at least they've played the Buckeyes out of conference recently.

Judy and I are taking the boys to the Charlotte Buckeyes game watch at Strike City this weekend. We hope to see you there! I'm hopeful that the Bucks will come in focused and ready to take care of business. Coach Tressel never seems to overlook this game regardless of the teams' records or where they will be bowling. Let's hope Pryor and the Silver Bullets are listening.


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