The Ten Year War, which many people consider the high-point in the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry, is now some 35 years in the rear view mirror. But both sides of this story still seem to want a modern version of the sideline game of chess that those two titans played with each other so long ago.
Although Woody and Bo are no longer with us, this great rivalry has blossomed in the years since. Yet, no matter who the coaches were, and no matter what the stakes, people want another Bo and Woody stalking each respective sideline, and somehow bring back that decade, or re-create it for a 21st century audience.
In the years since then, gridiron war continued, with Earle Bruce admirably standing in for OSU. Eventually, Gary Moeller and then Lloyd Carr followed in Bo's footsteps, and the rivalry continued to play out on relatively even terms. But once Earle was replaced by John Cooper, we've seen two distinct periods of this rivalry.
For a lot of us, the history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one of unmitigated success. If that applies to you, I kind of hate you, because man, the first distinct era, the Cooper years, still scar me after all this time. It was a frustrating time to be a Buckeye fan, as Cooper was unable to beat Michigan, with more than one crushing loss costing OSU a chance to play for a national championship. For as much as Cooper accomplished in Columbus, his tenure will forever be remembered as 2-10-1.
Thankfully, the Jim Tressel Decade Of Excellence sent the John Cooper 13 deep into the recesses of the memories of those that had to live through it. Tress rattled off nine wins in ten years, won that elusive title, beat UM in the 2006 #1 vs. #2 'Game Of The Century', and largely erased Coop's 2-10-1 stigma. The latter part of Tressel's dominance was greatly helped by Carr retiring and Michigan falling into the abyss of the Rich Rodriguez years, and it looked like OSU was going to be the King Of The Mountain for a long, long time.
But things changed, suddenly and dramatically, both in Columbus and Ann Arbor.
By the end of the 2011 regular season, the tables had seemingly turned. Michigan had beaten Ohio State, the Buckeyes fell to 6-6, and Michigan was headed to the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes, after having rolled off a decade of almost unparalleled success, faced an uncertain future. The fallout from the Tattoo Scandal hung over the program like a guillotine blade, Luke Fickell was a dead man walking, the product on the field had been substantially mediocre, and the life blood of a program--recruiting--was foundering and taking on water.
About three hours to the north, things were much different. A new coach, a 'Michigan Man' with bona fides that ran deep to the heart of the program had been hired to turn around a program that had been overcome with malaise and had been manhandled by their arch rivals for the last decade.
And turn it around he had. After three years of an outsider who was never embraced by those that are the fiercest guardians of the lineage of Yost, Harmon, and Schembechler, Brady Hoke brought Michigan all the way back in one remarkable year. He brought the scalp of OSU home for the first time since 2003, secured a BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl, and beat Virginia Tech in overtime, capping an 11-2 season.
As far as this rivalry goes, it seemed the tide had turned, and the pendulum had swung back in Michigan's favor. But that all changed in a nanosecond as Ohio State sent shockwaves through college football and hired Urban Meyer the Monday after The Game.
A confident Michigan fan base dismissed Meyer's hiring. The common theme on message boards was once Brady beat Urb two or three times, he'd 'get sick and retire again'. For Ohio State fans, Meyer was the rock star that was going to right the ship and get everything back on course. Both fan bases thought that a regular season finale and a rematch in the Conference Championship Game would be the rule, and not the exception.
The battle started immediately on the recruiting trail, as Urban Meyer was able to keep running back Brionte Dunn from flipping to Michigan. Hoke had already flipped Kyle Kalis and had gotten a commitment from Dymonte Thomas, two of the top recruits in Ohio, and Dunn was a guy that Meyer desperately wanted to keep in the fold, for PR if nothing else. Meyer finished strong, and dramatically closed the between the two classes. Michigan was a top five class, and Meyer started in the mid 20's. By signing day, Meyer came in with the number five class in the country...beating Michigan, who finished sixth.
But 2012 didn't really turn out the way either team thought. For Ohio State, a bowl ban prevented the team from competing for a national and conference championship. For Michigan, it was losses to Alabama, Notre Dame, and Nebraska. Still the final game of the season was a typical OSU-Michigan tilt--close, tense, and the game wasn't decided until the final minutes.
There was a feeling that there might be a new 10 Year War building,
Yet, as we approach this year's version, the return to those 10 years that was the zenith for this rivalry seems farther away than ever. OSU and Michigan have taken opposite paths this year--while Ohio State has managed to improve on their 12-0 inaugural season under Urban Meyer, Michigan has regressed.
In Ann Arbor, there is angst, apprehension, and frustration. What was supposed to be an ascent back to the top of the Big Ten has been an aggravating regression to the back of the pack. Since Hoke's inaugural 11-2 season, Michigan has regressed in each season, going 8-5 last year, and 6-3 while fading fast this season. Michigan has issues running the ball, and has run for (-69) yards in the last two games. How bad is it getting? The Wolverines lost those two games and are currently road underdogs at Northwestern...the same Northwestern that's lost five straight games. There's a good chance they'll be a road dog at Iowa, and if they aren't a home dog to OSU, a word of advice--bet everything, mortgage, car, watch, kid's college fund--all of it on OSU and the points. Oh, and take the over.
In Columbus, things are a complete 180 from up there. Urban Meyer has rebuilt the OSU football team in his image, they are 9-0, and peaking at the right time. After starting a little slow out of the gate while dealing with an injury to Braxton Miller, both the Buckeye offense and defense have come on strong in recent weeks, and both units are hitting on all cylinders. The offense is on pace to break every record in the books, and in the last month or so the defense has looked every bit as good as the Silver Bullets under the previous regime.
We're only a couple years into Hoke vs, Meyer, and as both programs can attest, things can change on a dime virtually overnight. But right now, the trajectories of the two programs couldn't be any different. And unless Michigan is able to reverse course in short order, the war will be over before it begins.