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Ohio State Football: The new war

Last weekend's spring game served as a remind that we're still far too many days away from seeing the Buckeyes play against actual competition. But despite the timing, the Big Ten's premier team (and their most hated rival) are starting this year's battle both on and off the field.

OSU's Field General
OSU's Field General

We've heard the stories.

From our fathers and mothers. Uncles and aunts. Grandpas and grandmas. From Ohio and Michigan. All of us, as Buckeye fans, have heard tales of the greatness that was the Ten Year War from 1969 to 1978. The stories of Woody and Bo on the sidelines, commanding two squads full of hate to barrel into each other at full speed. Perfect seasons were ruined. Rose Bowl appearances were traded. And dominance in the Midwest was often the spoil for a year's victor.

Now I may be underestimating LGHL's audience. Certainly, some of our outstanding readers lived through the dynamic decade of Ohio State and Michigan football mentioned above. I did not. So I am left to hear the details from other sources, also like those mentioned above. But I'm also more than aware that, in 40 years, I'll be able to share my own memories about the current war between Michigan and Ohio State with those that didn't live in the times themselves.

If the last two years are any indication, we're watching the opening salvos of the next epic period of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

Go back to the firing of Rich Rodriguez. As Buckeye fans, we laughed, having just completed a memorable season and taken an SEC-sized chip off of our shoulders by beating Arkansas. Michigan was in disarray, and everything in Columbus was primed and ready to move forward and leave the maize and blue in our collective rear view.

But oh how things changed. Ohio State resigfiretires Jim Tressel. Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the Tat-gate cronies leave the indelible mark on the football team. Luke Fickell takes over and is asked to do the impossible - have a Tresselian season when the odds against that are longer than any of the kickoff gaffes his special teams gave up. A promising season turns into a 6-7 nightmare, highlighted with a bowl loss to Florida and more so by a defeat in Ann Arbor to the hated rivals.

In Michigan, things turn frighteningly toward brighter days. First year coach Brady Hoke guides the Wolverines to an 11-2 finish, a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl (Michigan's first since 2006) and most frighteningly, the aforementioned win against Ohio State, the Wolverines' first since 2003. If there was a darkest timeline for the Buckeyes, this was most definitely it.

But time and change did surely show what a difference a year makes. Ohio State hires Urban Meyer. Meyer goes 12-0. Braxton Miller shines at 20% effectiveness (according to the coaching staff, anyway). No bowl game, but all the pins set up for 2013. Michigan devolves to 8-5 under Hoke. Including losses to South Carolina on New Years Day and a few weeks earlier to Ohio State.

We enter year three under Hoke and year two under Meyer. Suddenly, things don't seem much different from the 1970s.

The Ten Year War was not only highlighted with back and forth wins and losses, but was spearheaded by the enigmatic coaches on either side of the field. Bo Schembeckler was a student of Woody Hayes' at Miami - played under him in Oxford, coached under him in Columbus. Schembeckler was not a quiet coach, and wasn't quiet about his hatred (if not with wisps of respect) for the Buckeyes. Woody Hayes hated Michigan, no qualifiers needed. While the rivalry was always huge in college football, the Ten Year War made it nationally important outside of Ohio and Michigan; Woody and Bo made it matter.

And that's just the thing that Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are doing now. And they're taking their battle off the field.

It all started with Hoke's inability to refer to the Buckeyes by the university's proper name, Ohio State. He started this in January 2011 when he was hired and has since not wavered in his description of "Ohio" State. It's a small dig, not even a dig in Hoke's mind, but it is a thorn in the collective craw of Buckeye fans, myself included. And you, if you're being completely honest.

But Ohio State proved it could fire back. The target was the University of Michigan itself, one of the original "Public Ivy" schools and one of the great academic institutions in our country. According to the Ohio State football staff, it must be the other students and not those playing for the Wolverines on fall Saturdays.

Meanwhile, before the two teams could even match up against one another, Brady Hoke passed a message in the press to Urban Meyer before the 2012 game was even played. We all know about Woody going for two "because [he] couldn't go for three". Might that piss off the current Michigan coach? Uh, yeah.

The Wolverines, desirous of one-upping their rivals to the South, needed help from another "OSU" so as not to show any deference to THE OSU. In their Spring Game, Michigan QBs were wearing orange Oregon State jerseys instead of the traditional red (read: scarlet) non-contact jerseys. A Michigan Man won't be caught dead in Ohio colors, naturally.

But the Buckeye football staff had an answer for that, too. In celebrating the undefeated season of 2012, which culminated in a breathtaking 26-20 win over Michigan, players were rewarded with commemorative swag, as most teams are now wont to do. Among the gifts was the normal jewelry - watches and rings, the latter making mention to the previous seasons final game. But not without a slight jab right hook at the Wolverines' jaw.

The season hasn't started, but the rivalry is already firing on all cylinders. As Urban Meyer beings his second year at the helm, he will have a much improved, if not newly coiffed signal caller in Miller, and two sides of young starters chomping at the bit to keep the 12-game win streak alive and well. The Buckeyes are as prepared, if not more so, than they were last year when all they did was run the table and end the 2012 as the nation's only undefeated team.

In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are looking to build off of a great and very good first two years, respectively, with Brady Hoke in charge. Denard Robinson is gone, but new starter Devin Gardner, who seems to have the World Wide Leader going in on him these days, has been tabbed to run an even better offense in 2013 and try to return to the BCS just as they did in the 2011 season.

As Meyer and Hoke battle one another off the field, their teams will bloody one another on the field. Just like Woody and Bo would have liked it.

Meet the New War - same as the old war.