Ohio St vs Michigan Future?
The Big Ten will be going to a division format next year with the addition of Nebraska and recently there has been a lot of speculation that traditional powers Ohio St and Michigan will be separated and placed in opposite divisions. This argument to separate them has been gaining steam over the past several days with comments made by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Michigan AD Dave Brandon in the media.
First let me say that I am a traditionalist when it comes to college football. I love all the great rivalries and traditions, which makes the game the greatest in all of sports. With this in mind, I am STRONGLY against the idea of Michigan and Ohio St being split up in separate divisions and the game being moved to the middle of the season for several reasons.
#1 I hate rematches!
While there has been talk of splitting the two teams up in opposite divisions, commissioner Delany has said that they will continue to play the game every single year therefore creating the possibility of a rematch in the conference championship game. To me, rematches in college football are anti-climatic. I would much rather see Ohio St play Nebraska or Michigan play Penn St for a Big Ten title than watch a rematch of a game I have already seen! This would easily allow for much more interesting match-ups and make the overall conference more exciting than watching the same two teams. Rematches would also tarnish the rivalry of being the ONE big game all year and they are sometimes very unfair to the winner of the regular season matchup. Here are just a few examples.
In 1999, #18 Texas upset #3 Nebraska 24-20 in the regular season but then had to face the Cornhuskers again in the Big 12 Championship game and this time lost 22-6.
In 2000, Western Michigan finally broke the Marshall stranglehold on the MAC with a 30-10 win in Huntington early in the season. However, in the rematch later that season again in Huntington, the Broncos lost 19-14 and the Thundering Herd claimed their 4th straight title.
In 2001, Texas was again snake bitten by the “rematch” when they beat Colorado convincingly 41-7 in the regular season but then had to face the Buffaloes again in the championship game and this time lost 39-37.
Also in 2001, Tennessee came into the SEC championship game ranked #2 and had the national title game in their sights. There was one problem….they were going up against #21 LSU, a team that had already beaten 26-18. Final score: LSU 31-20 and the Volunteers have yet to fully recover.
In 2004, defending MAC champ Miami beat Toledo 23-16 but then just a few weeks later had to face the Rockets again for the MAC title and this time lost 35-27.
In 2006, Southern Miss had been the dominant program in the league and beat Houston 31-27 in the regular season but in the rematch for the league title lost 34-20, which shockingly is their only appearance in the CUSA title game.
Recently in 2007 and 2008 Virginia Tech avenged earlier losses to Boston College in the regular season to win back-to-back ACC championships therefore costing BC chances at making their 1st BCS appearance.
#2 This is the game both teams point to at the end of the year and it should remain there.
These two teams prepare for each other all year long and the game at the end of the season is a culmination of all that hard work and sacrifice that was put in towards the season and the game in particular. This is the greatest rivalry in college football and needs to be treated as such. I feel the game would have far less meaning if it were put in the middle of the season. My best example in support of this would be the 2006 season when #1 Ohio St played #2 Michigan in the finale. The anticipation and excitement for the game built with each week of the season and I specifically remember ESPN having a countdown clock to the game several weeks in advance. Had the game been played in October, Michigan might not have even been ranked #2 and you certainly would not have the several week build-up. Also with several games left on the schedule, there would always be the chance that the loser could still make the conference title game therefore lessening the importance of the game.
#3 Oklahoma/Texas has worked out pretty good playing in the same division.
The Red River Rivalry is one of the best in college football and the Sooners and Longhorns have dominated the Big 12 conference despite playing in the same division. The game is very important as the winner of the game has gone on to win the conference title SIX times in the past decade alone! Very rarely does the loser of the game remain in the title hunt, therefore creating a must-win scenario for both teams each and every year. I also think the Oklahoma/Texas has gotten more heated at least among fans when the loser of the game actually goes to the Big 12 title game and wins it. (see Oklahoma 2008). Could you imagine if Ohio St beat Michigan but the Wolverines still won the division tiebreaker and ended up winning the Big Ten title? Who gets the bragging rights then?
#4 What are the chances of a rematch occurring anyway?
Even if you want to see Ohio St and Michigan play for the Big Ten conference title every year, this would not be a given due to recent history. My friend Doug Lesmerises, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a very intriguing article that broke down what the divisions results would have been like had the conference split Ohio St/Michigan in separate divisions back in 1993. According to Doug’s research a rematch would have only occurred 4 times or about once every 4 years! The people that are for splitting the two teams apart say they would much prefer the Ohio St/Michigan game to decide the Big 10 championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl than just a division title. However, this data proves that would be a rare occurrence and not worth splitting the teams up. Let’s face it, this is not the “Big 2″ and the “Little 8″ anymore. With the addition of Nebraska along with Penn St, Iowa and Wisconsin the Buckeyes and Wolverines will probably not continue their dominance like they had for so many years and meet up in the Big Ten Title game every year. However if you are looking for that big game, the Ohio St/Michigan outcome would have decided the division crown for one team or both in NINE of the past 13 years if they were in the same division!
#5 Look at what happened to Oklahoma/Nebraska.
The Oklahoma/Nebraska rivalry was one of the greatest in college football when I was growing up as a kid and I always looked forward to the game after Thanksgiving each and every year. The game usually had the Big 8 championship and an Orange Bowl berth on the line as the two teams combined for 12 straight OB appearances from 1977-88. When the Big 12 was formed in 1996 and the two teams were placed in opposite divisions there was the thought that the two would still play every year if not in the regular season but also in the Big 12 championship game. However, that was not the case as the teams have only met 7 times in the last 12 years and won’t play this year unless they meet in the Big 12 championship. While everyone has been adamant that despite the possibility of Ohio St/Michigan playing in opposite divisions, the game will still be played every year, I have some doubts. Nebraska and Oklahoma continued to play for the first couple of years of the Big 12 (albeit in the middle of the season) but then the rivalry seemed to lose a little steam and the cries for having to play the game every year lessened. I hope the same does not occur to Ohio St and Michigan.
With a final announcement looming in the next few weeks, I certainly hope that all the decision-makers in this process heavily weigh some of the points I have made here and hopefully the Ohio St/Michigan can continue its tradition of being the greatest rivalry in all of college football!
Only 7 more days until the First College Football Game!!!