There are few rivalries in all of sport that can compare to the century-old bitterness that exists between Michigan and Ohio State. With all due respect to many of the great college rivalries that exist around the nation, none compares to the bitter resentment that exists when the two historic behemoths of the Big Ten tangle.
There is no trophy, there is no banner, the game itself has no name. It's simple, “the game.” Hell, the two teams are even loathe to refer to each other by name. Michigan coaches, players and fans refer to Ohio State as simply “Ohio” (a name Ohio State helps along by playing in “Ohio Stadium” with a band that spells out “Ohio” while leaving off “State”). Ohio State coaches, players and fans allow even less geography to slip between their lips. Michigan was famously referred to by Woody Hayes as “that school up north.” The moniker stuck, and Michigan, officially abbreviated U-M, has a different shortening in Ohio: TSUN or TUN (team up north).
There's even a punk band out of Columbus named “Dead Schembechlers,” after the legendary Michigan head coach, the late Bo Schembechler.
The reasons behind the rivalry vary based on who you talk to, but it's usually some combination of the proximity of the states, the lingering resentment over the “Toledo War” and Ohio State's perceived historical inferiority in both academics and football. Regardless, the rivalry is one of, if not the greatest in any sport, college or professional, and there's no signs of it cooling anytime soon.
When the Big Ten added Nebraska as the 12th team two seasons ago, the conference split into two divisions. Ohio State and Michigan were separated, but guaranteed an annual cross-division meeting to end the regular season. The Big Ten realigns once again for the 2014 football season with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, and this time, both Michigan and Ohio State will be members of the renamed “East Division.”
How will this affect the rivalry?
For one thing, there's no longer any chance that these two programs could meet in the Big Ten Championship Game—at least until the conference goes through another realignment. While that may not seem like a big deal to some, in the long history of the Big Ten, there have been just a few handfuls of seasons where neither Michigan nor Ohio State wasn't playing for a Big Ten championship (77 conference titles have been won between the two programs over 116 seasons of Big Ten football, including nine shared titles).
But if there's no conference championship on the line in this game, how can it possibly intensify the rivalry?
Michigan and Ohio State will now compete in the East Division, meaning only one team can claim a championship of any kind in any one season. Either Michigan or Ohio State could play for a Big Ten title each season, not both. The teams can't meet twice, a la UCLA-Stanford in 2012.
We also have to consider that if Michigan gets back to where many think it's headed—pre-Rich Rodriguez form—the last Saturday in November will serve as an East Division play-in game for the Big Ten title bout. The joining of the Wolverines and Buckeyes in the same division will also coincide with the first season of the new College Football Playoff system. It's hard to imagine a scenario where any Big Ten team is selected to participate in the playoff without having won its own division.
In reality, the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry needs little to add fuel to the flames. But if you take away any Big Ten championship possibility along with any realistic hopes of participating in the new College Football Playoff, it's easy to see how the fires that burn in Columbus and Ann Arbor may have just been stoked a bit.
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