Saturday November 21st, 2009

It must be hard for Michigan fans to pick the most excruciating element of Ohio State's win Saturday in Ann Arbor, its sixth straight Wolverines conquest. Was it:

A) That a sea of red could be seen throughout the Big House every time ABC panned to its aerial shot?

B) That quarterback Tate Forcier, the one-time freshman savior, committed five turnovers, including a fumble in the end zone that set up Ohio State's first touchdown?

C) That Michigan's much-maligned defense actually played one of its best games of the season, yet the Wolverines still lost?

D) That Saturday's final 21-10 score meant the Wolverines actually covered the spread?

Another long offseason has officially commenced in Ann Arbor now that Ohio State has sealed the Wolverines' second straight losing season for the first time since 1963. With a 1-7 Big Ten record (actually worse than last year's 2-6 mark) following a 4-1 start, Rich Rodriguez's approval rating is presumably hovering somewhere between 0 and 1 percent.

Contrary to much media speculation, Michigan is not going to fire the former West Virginia coach after just two seasons. AD Bill Martin has been outspoken in his support, and the school knows what an expensive and counterproductive move firing Rodriguez would be. The Wolverines are still trying to recover from a heavy slew of roster attrition upon Rodriguez's arrival, and they've already invested two years trying to shift to his philosophy and system.

But his leash only extends so much. Assuming Charlie Weis gets the heave ho at Notre Dame, Rodriguez will go into next season on the hottest of hot seats. He must spend the next nine months trying to upgrade Michigan's woeful talent level while simultaneously fending off endless speculation about his future.

The Wolverines' state of flux has allowed their arch-rival to expand what was already a significant gap between the two programs. Remember, many Michigan fans soured on Lloyd Carr due in large part to his 1-6 record against Jim Tressel. On Saturday, Tressel's Buckeyes won for the eighth time in nine meetings with That Team Up North and captured their third outright Big Ten title in four years.

A week after running the ball down Iowa's throat, Tressel went back to the well, with OSU gaining 251 of its 318 yards on the ground. One notable difference: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor was a much bigger part of the run game, going for 74 yards on 19 attempts.

Even then, Michigan's defense kept it in the game with several big third-down stops (OSU converted just 4-of-15 attempts) and an interception of Pryor. They held the Buckeyes to just 14 points on offense. But with a chance to get within four points on a second-and-five at the Ohio State six-yard-line midway through the fourth quarter, Forcier threw his third of four interceptions. Dagger.

Led by safety Kurt Coleman, who will contend for All-America honors next month, the Buckeyes' dominant defense will carry them to their seventh BCS appearance in the past eight years, this time in Pasadena.

The contrast between Maize and Blue and Scarlet and Gray has rarely seemed sharper.

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