BSB's series on the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry continues with a look at how the rivalry could be turning back the clock.
Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke could be on the way to ushering in a memorable time on the field in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
Whether that works out remains to be seen, but one thing seems for sure – they seem to be on the way to creating at least a more vibrant, interesting rivalry, one in which the two schools are content to talk up the dislike.
“Edge is great,” Cleveland Plain Dealer OSU beat writer Doug Lesmerises said. “I think I sense it, and I love it.”
To wit – there’s the ongoing battle of nomenclature between the two coaches. Hoke, of course, addresses Ohio State only as “Ohio,” much to the annoyance of Buckeye and Bobcat fans across the state.
In response, Meyer has pulled a page from the book of Woody Hayes, preferring to refer to Michigan only as “That Team Up North” on the schedule boards and other matters around the WHAC facility.
They're throwback touches to a bygone era, and they show just how special the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is to those who grew up in its heyday. Heck, even the Hatfields and McCoys referred to each other by their names.
“What we have now is two guys who won’t say the name of the schools!” Lesmerises said. “How many stories have we written about them not saying the names of the schools? And (U-M basketball coach) John Beilein won’t say the name of the school! That is ridiculous, but it’s wonderfully ridiculous. I love that it drives Ohio State fans crazy just as I love that it drives Michigan fans crazy that the board in the Woody says ‘The School Up North’ instead of Michigan. That’s great. That makes it 365 days a year.”
In the end, the sniping over the names is a small battle but one that is emblematic of just how much Meyer and Hoke understand the rivalry – and how much they seem to enjoy adding to it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean another “Ten-Year War” – the epic battle in which Bo Schembechler edged Woody Hayes by a 5-4-1 mark in the rivalry from 1969-78 – is on the offing, as the two current coaches aren’t quite at that iconic level yet in their current jobs.
But what it does mean is that the potential is there for a pretty interesting time over the next couple of years if both Meyer and Hoke continue to coach the way it appears they might.
“I will predict right now that I think the rivalry is going to reach the second highest peak to Bo and Woody that we’ve seen in the past 30 or 40 years,” best-selling author John U. Bacon said. “These guys are not afraid to speak their mind. They don’t really care that much, it seems to me, what the other side thinks about them, which certainly was true of the rivalry at its peak. These guys are focused on it. They’re competitive.
“I wouldn’t call it trash talking – that’s too strong – but they’re not just giving you the usual boilerplate clichés to diffuse the situation. They’re not afraid to stir it up a little bit, and I think that adds to the fun.”
In fact, a few things about the current rivalry seem to indicate that things are going to get a bit “old school” going forward. It could happen on the field between the two teams, as after two decades of dominance by one side or the other, both Hoke and Meyer won their debuts over the past two seasons.
And as we wrote about earlier, sometimes that talent comes from the rival’s state, the kind of thing that can continue to add heat to the proceedings. At the same time, plenty of players also choose to stay in-state to represent their boyhood schools, leading to an interesting dynamic.
“It goes without saying what the rivalry means to a guy like Archie Griffin, who grew up in the state of Ohio, Braxton Miller, who grew up in Ohio, that if you’re born and raised on this and you go down the street (for school), it means a hell of a lot,” said Bacon, a longtime Michigan observer. “But I’m going to argue, perhaps crazily, that it means a little more to a star like Jim Mandich or Dan Dierdorf or Rob Lytle or Desmond Howard or Charles Woodson (that goes from Ohio to Michigan).
“When they go to Michigan, they know damn well they’re turning their back on a lot of people they used to call friends, and they will hear about it the rest of their life. As that good of a player, you don’t cross that border lightly. If you do that as a player, man, you better win a couple of games.”
The same could be said of someone like Damon Webb, who is crossing the border to go from the Wolverine State to suit up for Ohio State as part of the Buckeyes’ class of 2014.
That the Buckeyes are branching into some neighboring states for talent – with commits in that class not just from Michigan but also Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Pennsylvania – is another sign of how the two teams are separating themselves from the rest of the Big Ten.
Michigan is doing the same, picking up commits from the Wolverine state as well as Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania in the 2014 class, sucking up some of the top talent that could have gone to other Big Ten schools but instead is on the way to playing in the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
Sound a bit familiar to the “Big Two, Little Eight” days? When Hayes and Schembechler dominated the league, the line was that the conference belonged to Ohio State and Michigan with everyone else a step behind, and it was far from a joke; the final AP polls from 1969-78 showed no school that was in the Big Ten at the time other than OSU or Michigan finishing in the top 10 of the rankings at any point (though Nebraska and Penn State, which would later join, each did often).
That could be a trend that returns considering just how much the Buckeyes and Wolverines have held serve in the recruiting rankings in past seasons, with much of the region’s top talent either choosing one of the two powers or going elsewhere around the country.
Both OSU and U-M have brought in top-five recruiting classes each of the past two years, while the last Big Ten team other than the two to finish in the top 10 was Penn State. The Nittany Lions placed 10th in Scout’s rankings with the class of 2010 – and that school is facing NCAA sanctions that could severely limit its ability to compete going forward.
“I think the last couple of years, they’ve recruited at a different level than everyone else,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “When you look at Ohio State and Michigan being one-two in the country last year and finishing both in the top five the year before and headed that way again this year, you would think three straight years of that kind of class should provide you with the talent base that you need.
“When you bring in that many guys each year that are highly ranked, the ones that are going to turn out, you’re putting together a pretty good squad.”
For Bacon, it all goes back to Meyer’s comments last summer that the Big Ten schools as a whole needed to look at the way they are recruiting as a conference. Meyer took heat for his comments, which were taken by many as more of a challenge than an observation, but to Bacon there was an inescapable truth – the league needs to keep pace with Ohio State and Michigan on the recruiting trail or risk being left behind.
After all, it has happened before, and it can happen again.
“Right now, I do see that,” Bacon said. “Michigan and Ohio State are lights out right now.”
Next up: Taking stock of a double battle.