“I don’t care if we go 1 and 11 as long as that ‘1’ is Ohio State.”
It’s a phrase most Michigan fans have uttered to stay sane this season. It’s a phrase I’ve said many a season when the Rose Bowl has been out of reach.
Ohio State fans probably say the same thing about Michigan when they’re out of contention.
And while the statement itself provides insight into the unwavering animosity between the two schools, it hasn’t been put to the test.
Both U of M and OSU have been premiere programs for decades. It’s the greatest rivalry in sports. Every year the last game of the regular season is the biggest.
It’s a self-hyping game. All you have to say is "Wolverines, Buckeyes" and sports fans start paying attention.
If one team is undefeated, they have to hang on against a team out for blood.
This isn’t because the other team is trying to be the "spoiler." No one cares who goes where if one team or the other wins. It's because the only thing that matters is who wins this one game.
It’s a one-game season. The best indication of this is that every coaching record you hear about at Michigan involves two numbers: 1) overall winning percentage and 2) winning percentage against OSU.
Jim Tressel got and has kept his job because of the second stat. Lloyd Carr lost his job (sorry, he retired) because of the second stat. Rich Rodriguez can save this season and perhaps his legacy at U of M because of the second stat.
If the Michigan vs. OSU game were at the beginning of the season neither program would be as storied as it is today. Every year the winning team would have a let down, having already defeated their main rival. Meanwhile, the losing team would probably tank because what's the point if you’ve lost to your rival?
That is why this game is always at the end of the season. It becomes a right of passage for the favored team and one last chance at redemption for the underdog. If the favorite can’t win, they don’t deserve to be in the championship game, or the Rose Bowl, or another BCS bowl. And if the underdog can pull out a victory it brings legitimacy to all the hard work put in on the practice field in spite of a disappointing season.
This year, Michigan has faced its most disappointing season is over three decades, even with the low expectations coming in.
This means one thing: Beating Ohio State would mean more this year that it has for over 30 years.
If U of M wins this weekend you’ll hear some Michigan fans saying, “Man, I wish we had lost more this year. It would have made this victory that much sweeter.”
Well, 4-8 never looked so much better than 3-9.