Today, BuckeyeSports.com kicks off a series taking a look at the state of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Boasting two intense head coaches, standout recruiting classes and rabid fan bases, the Buckeyes and Wolverines appear headed on what could be a unique and historic collision course. In Part I, we look at the chances that the two teams will meet twice this year – once in the regular season and a second time a week later in the Big Ten Championship Game.
History could be on tap this year.
Whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
There’s a long way to go until it happens, but with both Michigan and Ohio State rated among the best teams in the Big Ten going into the 2013 season, the possibility exists that the Buckeyes and Wolverines could meet in consecutive weeks this year – in the final week of the regular season and again seven days later in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
To call this unprecedented might be an understatement. While the SEC has had plenty of high-level matchups in its title game, its biggest rivalries – think Florida vs. Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, or Auburn vs. Alabama in the Iron Bowl – all take place within one division, meaning its title game has never resulted in a blood feud, especially one that came a week after a prior regular-season meeting.
It is the same throughout many other leagues, but the Big Ten is set up different in 2013. Should things break the way many league observers and college football experts expect, the greatest rivalry in sports – The Game, Ohio State vs. Michigan – could take place twice in a span of eight days this November and December.
“Looking back through not just the Big Ten because they just added the championship game, but even though the landscape of college football, to play back-to-back like that, I don’t know if it’s ever happened,” said Bobby Carpenter, a former Ohio State linebacker who now co-hosts a show on WBNS Radio in Columbus.
“I would call it a rarity at best, so it would definitely be a unique experience to play back-to-back, and the second time at a neutral site. I don’t know if I necessarily want to see it happen."
And as Carpenter alludes to, whether this is the kind of thing that fans, players, alums and other college football observers are in favor of remains to be seen. A recent poll of fans on BuckeyeSports.com showed that the majority of OSU fans think a repeat matchup would be bad for the rivalry, and a sampling of experts and former players shows mixed feelings about the subject.
On the one hand are those who believe it would hurt the rivalry to see the two teams meet in consecutive weeks simply because it would be too much in too short of a time frame.
“I hated Ohio State and Michigan being in opposite divisions when they did this because I thought you would lessen the two most important games in the Big Ten,” Cleveland Plain Dealer OSU beat reporter Doug Lesmerises said. “It’s too much of a good thing.
“It’s like, everybody likes dessert, but nobody wants to eat five desserts because you feel sick. That, to me, is what two straight weeks of Ohio State-Michigan would feel like.”
The reaction this past week at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago was mixed on the subject. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer didn't seem too keen on the matter, but left tackle and potential captain Jack Mewhort – a native of Toledo, ground zero for the rivalry given its location in the Buckeye State but close proximity to the Michigan border – thinks it would be fun to be a part of history if it comes to pass this season.
“That would be really cool just because that’s a rivalry game for us, and that’s the one we always have circled,” he said. “To be able to play the team up north twice in two weeks, I think that would be a pretty special experience. That’d be really cool, really awesome.”
And make no mistake – a lot of people around college football expect the double rivalry to happen. In a preseason media poll of Big Ten writers done by the Plain Dealer, all 26 experts polled have the Buckeyes winning the Leaders Division, with 25 picking them to win the whole league. Twelve of the writers, meanwhile, picked Michigan to win the Legends Division, tied with Nebraska for the most votes.
In addition, both Athlon Sports in its annual preseason predictions magazine and popular blog site SB Nation have picked Ohio State and Michigan to win their divisions. VegasInsider.com also has the two schools as having the best odds to win the Big Ten.
“If I had to bet right now on who is going to win each division, I would go with the vast majority of voters who probably say just that – that it’s going to be Michigan in the Legends Division and Ohio State in the Leaders,” said best-selling author John U. Bacon, writer of a new book on the Big Ten, “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football.”
“I think both teams, if they’re not at their peak, they’re heading that direction. That’s pretty clear. They have experienced quarterbacks, older teams, and more mature teams.”
Adding one extra bit of intrigue to the proceedings is that this is the last time – at least for a while – the two teams could meet in the title game. The Big Ten is realigning next year when Maryland and Rutgers join, and the Buckeyes and Wolverines will join forces in the new Eastern Division at that point.
When the current divisional setup was announced, many thought the potential for frequent double meetings was high. Now, the answer appears to be once, at most, as neither team has yet appeared in a Big Ten title game, though OSU would have a year ago had it not been banned from postseason play.
“I think there’s a little karmic aspect to it,” Lesmerises said. “I’m very happy that they figured out what they should have figured out the first time, and we’re moving away from that. However, now I want to see the car wreck. They did this, everybody talked about it, we’re in the third year of it, but neither team has even been there. I think it has to happen before we get back to what it should have been to begin with.”
“I’m going to pick it both because of on-the-field things and the off-the-field idea that we just have to see what this is going to be like, because I think it would be awesome and terrible at the same time.
And if that doesn’t excite you, listen to what Bacon – a longtime observer of both Michigan and Ohio State – has to say.
“This game coming up could be one of the all-time classics,” Bacon said. “It’s very hard to predict this stuff, but right now, it seems like on several levels, the stars are aligning for a classic dual matchup.”
Next up: We take a look at how Ohio State and Michigan have recruited recently -- and perhaps separated themselves from the rest of the Big Ten.