Ohio State-Michigan Is a Rivalry Because They Say It Is
The students at Ohio State who are diligently crossing out every letter, M, on every sign on campus and replacing it with a bold scarlet, X, would probably push back if ordered to engage in that activity solely on the authority of mom or dad.
They're doing it because it's Michigan Week in Columbus.
Because it's tradition.
Because Saturday is the 115th installment of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
But really, whether the kids know it or not, they are doing it because some adult gave them the flimsiest reason there is:
BECAUSE I SAID SO!
Because what is tradition if not a cursory acceptance of something as fact that historical evidence may not support?
And in the case of Ohio State-Michigan being a rivalry, there's little recent justification for labeling what's set to transpire at noon Saturday in Ann Arbor as anything beyond just another game on the Ohio State schedule.
As just another maize-and-blue speed bump under the second-ranked Buckeyes' tire.
No. 2 OSU (11-0) doesn't need a victory to clinch the Big Ten East and play in the league title game.
Even with a loss to the Wolverines (9-2), Ohio State is likely in the College Football Playoff unless it loses again a week later in Indianapolis.
Of course, looking at this series logically, or factually, invites the inevitable admonitions about the temerity of anyone saying such a thing not really "getting" the rivalry and all that makes it special.
After all, it's historic.
The memories are welded in our minds.
Besides, it's disrespectful to the men who built the rivalry to dare suggest anything else.
Once upon a time, they said the same about Oklahoma-Nebraska, Florida-Florida State and USC-UCLA.
Now, no one cares.
The convenience of Christmas shopping from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and waiting breathlessly for your package to arrive a month later was great in its day.
Now, one click and Amazon is dropping your order on the front porch in an hour.
Tradition is one thing.
Progress is another.
Face it, what used to be great isn't any more, as it concerns the Ohio State-Michigan series.
It hasn't been since 2004.
That's 15 years ago, or long enough for the guys who'll play in this game Saturday to go from first grade to the cusp of the NFL.
Michigan has beaten Ohio State exactly once over that span, and it took the upheaval of an interim coach in the aftermath of Jim Tressel's firing for that to happen -- barely, by a score of 40-34 -- in 2011.
Take a wild guess how many other Big Ten teams have beaten Ohio State as often or more often than Michigan over the last decade and one-half.
The answer is...five conference members have beaten OSU more often, and three more have done it as often as Michigan has beaten the Buckeyes since 2004.
So, kids, put away your big ol' scarlet Xs and spend them on purging campus of every, P, in sight when Purdue or Penn State come calling, because both have beaten Ohio State four times in the last 15 years.
Or, if you're hellbent on eradicating the world of Ms, save your efforts for Michigan State.
The Spartans have beaten OSU three times, one of which absolutely cost the Buckeyes a chance to play for, and likely win, a national championship in 2013 and another which definitely nuked a Playoff berth in 2015.
Iowa and Wisconsin have done it twice, the former costing the Buckeyes a Playoff spot in 2017, the latter knocking Ohio State off the No. 1 ranking and inflicting its only loss in 2010.
Northwestern, Nebraska and Illinois have each beaten Ohio State as often -- once -- in the 15 years dating to the Buckeyes' current 14-1 streak over Michigan.
Ahhh, but that's misleading.
The only Big Ten team to play Ohio State every season since 2004, besides Michigan, is Penn State. So the other six teams in the league who've matched or exceeded the Wolverines' success over that span have done so in fewer opportunities.
And there's more.
Texas, Florida and Clemson have each beaten Ohio State twice over the last 15 years, or twice as often as Michigan, even though only the Longhorns played OSU more than twice, and that was just three times.
Big Ten opponents
Wins over Ohio State since 2004
2005, 2008, 2011, 2016
2004, 2009, 2011, 2018
2011, 2013, 2015
So, steel yourself for all the typical blather about this being the greatest rivarly in sports, certainly in college football, even though none of it is true and hasn't been since the year Facebook was invented, iPods were all the rage and Bluetooth still meant you had a stain on your teeth.
It won't be what it was until Michigan wins at least once, which more than half the league has done since the Wolverines last solved the scarlet-and-gray Rubik's Cube that's confounded them so.
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