Ohio State Strafes Beaten, Befuddled Michigan to Extend Dominance
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jim Tressel showed mercy to his counterpart Saturday. Ohio State easily could have set a scoring record against Michigan, but its coach backed off.
Either that or he wanted to keep the guy on the other side of the field employed for a few more years.
Because Rich Rodriguez is good for Ohio State. Not as good as Tressel, who has defeated Michigan seven times in a row, but pretty good nonetheless.
Michigan football is a mess. Long forgotten is the memory of that fast start that had the Wolverines talking big and quarterback Denard Robinson in the Heisman hunt. Once October arrived, Michigan turned into the Little Sisters of the Poor, with no apologies whatsoever to Gordon Gee.
The Wolverines lost five of their last seven -- 37-7 to Ohio State -- and became a what-do-we-do-now mess. They play a style neither appreciated nor a part of Michigan football. They have a coach who seems like a nice guy who does not fit. They have a new athletic director who did not hire the coach, a guy who came from Domino's who might start knocking dominoes over. They are light years behind Ohio State, which has a piece of the Big Ten title for the sixth year in a row while Michigan staggers to the end of the season losing five its last seven -- which at least is better than a year ago, when it lost six of its last seven.
The disparity between the teams that once ruled the Big Ten seems cavernous. And it prompted Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez to get a little testy and defiant when asked about his future as Michigan's coach -- though those who are around him a lot said he was not unusually testy.
"I am not deterred," he said.
The light in the background came from the smiles of beaming Ohio State folks. They might laugh more if they know that Rodriguez actually said he was angry and asked if he should go sing Kumbaya with Buckeye fans.
Someone's crying Lord ...
While Ohio State gushes and celebrates its status as one of the elite in the Big Ten, and the nation, Michigan faces a reality with Rich Rod that it is rich but not good.
The choices: Ride out Rodriguez, a quirky hire who won at West Virginia but who is finding the building slow going at Michigan. Or fire him and hire a "Michigan guy," like Jim Harbaugh, whose resume and performance at Stanford almost scream out for him to return to Ann Arbor.
But if the Wolverines make a switch, they have to pay off the $7.5 million remaining on Rodriguez's six-year contract and they have to retool again because Rodriguez's recruiting classes have been designed to fit the spread offense. Harbaugh made Andrew Luck into the likely first pick in the NFL Draft -- if the quarterback opts for an early exit -- with a more traditional offense, complete with a fullback. Re-starts in college football usually mean two or three years before a team is up to speed.
Michigan might be able to join the WAC if it expands. Except then it would have to deal with Nevada for one more year and those other Little Sisters. Michigan's early season wins came over Connecticut, Notre Dame (by four), Massachusetts and Bowling Green. Its Big Ten wins were over Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, who have seven Big Ten wins combined.
Michigan's mess is in no small part because of Tressel, who has done almost everything one coach can do in his 10 years at Ohio State. The Buckeyes' Big Ten title is their sixth in a row, and seventh in 10 years. Tressel has won one BCS title, been to three championship games, and is 9-1 against Michigan.
Which leads to the question: Can a rivalry really be a rivalry when one team wins all the games?
Saturday, the Wolverines finished 30 points and 160 yards below their season average -- though a hand injury to Robinson hurt the cause. Rodriguez's case rests on the reality that it takes time to completely re-do a program, and his win totals have increased every year -- from three to five to seven.
"I think the worst is behind us," he said.
But ... his overall record is 15-21, his Big Ten record is 6-17 and he is 0-3 against Ohio State. And Michigan got trounced by an Ohio State team that is not great. The "gauntlet" its president (the same Gordon Gee) said it runs every season included teams like Marshall, Ohio University and Eastern Michigan (how does one team survive such challenges year in and year out?).
The Buckeyes are good, and they are talented, resilient and resourceful. Evidence: Shrugging off a Michigan TD that cut the lead to 17-7 and answering with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Tressel said the Buckeyes were not good enough to be the Big Ten champ outright -- they share it with Wisconsin and Michigan State, but they are a Top 10 team. Not a top-three team, a Top 10 team. Yet it handled Michigan with yawning ease.
"Michigan is among the elite programs and will be," Tressel said. "Their record will reflect that over the course of time. We all have our ups and downs."
Not really. Michigan's ups since Rodriguez took over have been wins over a down Notre Dame team, while it has had many downs, especially in the Big Ten. Tressel's downs have come on the biggest stage -- the BCS Championship Game. It's a big down to lose that game, but there are a lot of teams that would love to be in three of them in 10 years.
"Michigan will be back," Tressel said. "We don't have to worry about that."
We won't. There's enough people in Michigan who will worry on their own.
At this point, the Wolverines have to be asking themselves: Does sparing the Rod spoil the program?