Why Ohio State Fans Need to Be Rooting for Michigan

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Why Ohio State Fans Need to Be Rooting for Michigan
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday night in Beaver Stadium, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines led a two-loss Penn State team by a touchdown in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions were pinned at their own 20-yard line with less than a minute to go, and any chance of tying the game was largely dependent on a combination of skill and luck that almost never align in those desperate situations.

It did for Penn State, though, when freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg orchestrated a brilliant drive to tie the game. The Nittany Lions would go on to win in a quadruple-overtime thriller, all to the delight of many Ohio State fans.

It's easy for fanbases to revel in the misery of their rival's failures, but in this scenario, Buckeye Nation should have been rooting for the Wolverines.

* * *

G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images
Chad Henne helped Michigan regain elite status in 2006.

Almost seven years ago to the day in Beaver Stadium, on October 14, 2006, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines led a two-loss Penn State team by a touchdown in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions were pinned at their own 19-yard line with less than two minutes to go, and the odds of tying the game against a Wolverines defense that had been stout all night were, in a word, slim.

Those odds diminished almost instantly as Michigan surrendered just nine yards on four plays. The Wolverines took over, quarterback Chad Henne took a knee, and Michigan survived to preserve its undefeated season.

It was the Wolverines' seventh victory of the year, and it also threw gas on the flames of a building hype that involved a dream matchup between an undefeated Ohio State team and an equally perfect Michigan squad.

* * *

The 2006 season was a celebration for Big Ten football.

Ohio State kicked off the year ranked No. 1 and backed up its top billing by rolling through its schedule unscathed.

Michigan burst onto the national scene in Week 3, on the road, when it routed No. 2 Notre Dame 47-21. The Fighting Irish were on everyone's shortlist of national title contenders, but Michigan erased them from the conversation in dominant, irreversible fashion.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Michigan throttled Brady Quinn and No. 2 Notre Dame in a 2006 matchup of undefeated teams.

After that game, the potential of undefeated Ohio State and Michigan teams meeting in the final week became the most polarizing narrative in college football.

Following the Wolverines' close victory over Penn State, Michigan ascended to the No. 2 spot behind Ohio State and stayed there the five weeks leading up to the big game.

The two were on a collision course, and it was all anyone could talk about.

When the Wolverines hammered Indiana the week leading up to the titanic showdown, then Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner described the building anticipation accurately.

"I guess that's what everybody's been wanting," Hoeppner said, according to Joe Vardon of The Toledo Blade. "Well, they get the big showdown next week."

The eyes of the college football world were on Columbus, Ohio, to watch a battle between the two premier programs in the Big Ten.

* * *

The game lived up to the hype as Ohio State outlasted Michigan 42-39.

The Buckeyes and the Wolverines put on a show for the ages. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Henne and the Wolverines countered with 397 yards of offense, but it wasn't enough to overcome the seemingly unstoppable Buckeyes.

It was such a good game that some were considering a rematch in the national championship.

Florida, of course, got the nod over Michigan.

Exactly 50 days after the Buckeyes and the Wolverines played the "Game of the Century," the Gators stole college football's spotlight by routing Ohio State in the title game.

The SEC has been hogging that spotlight ever since.

* * *

Michigan beating Penn State last Saturday wouldn't have changed many people's opinion of the Big Ten.

A victory over the Nittany Lions wouldn't have vaulted Michigan to a No. 2 ranking like it did seven years ago.

This year's version of the Wolverines look nothing like that 2006 squad, which beat its first 11 opponents by an average of 17 points. This year's version has looked mediocre in close wins over lowly Akron and UConn. 

Because of that, the hype just isn't there. 

Some Ohio State fans complain when national columnists degrade the Big Ten, and by extension Ohio State, because of its perceived weakness compared to the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC.

USA TODAY Sports

Some Ohio State fans can't understand why their Buckeyes are ranked so low in the AP poll, No. 4 to be exact, behind Alabama, Oregon and Clemson.

What could change that? What could get Ohio State that respect?

The last time people held that view of the Buckeyes, they were preparing for, and then beating, an elite Michigan team.

It will be difficult for some die-hard Buckeyes fans to swallow, but it's in their best interest to see Michigan playing at a high level.  

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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