B1G Ten Tour - Brady Hoke and the OSU Rivalry

Posted Jun 28, 2013

During the college football offseason, Phil Harrison brings you notes, news and opinion from the Big Ten Conference. It's the B1G Ten Tour.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

Brady Hoke's Stoking of the OSU Rivalry

He's at it again. Okay, so maybe it's not Hoke putting out bulletin-board material, but Devin Gardner going on public radio to confirm that Michigan will beat Ohio State in the Big House this year is following a familiar pattern.

And what's that you say? How about the welcome embrace of what the annual showdown between two old rivals really means to the fans of both the Maize and Blue and the Scarlet and Gray.

Of course many will argue that there's nothing that needs to be done to make what many consider to be the best rivalry in college football any more special -- and to some extent that may be correct -- but we need only to trace when The Game heated up to its ultimate boiling point, and of course when it cooled off to as close to a footnote of the season as it could be. Only then do we realize that the participants in this game of high-stakes college-football poker can indeed up the ante.

By all accounts and measures, Ohio State versus Michigan (or Michigan versus Ohio State if you're a Wolverine fan) was at its pinnacle of fervor during the "Ten Year War." That aptly named period is of course the decade in which Woody Hayes and protégé Bo Schembechler went at it like two grumpy old men fighting over the waitress at the local Moose Lodge. It was tit for tat, barbs in the media, and paranoia with a little perceived espionage thrown in for good measure.

And then it all ended.

You know the story. Woody Hayes went beyond his already blurred line of agression in a 1978 Gator Bowl loss by way of punching Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman. Bo Schembechler remained until 1989, and The Game certainly remained in the spotlight as coaches from both sides came and went, but it wasn't like the two old generals going at it.

John Cooper, meet Rich Rodriguez.

Okay, it's a little unfair to compare the success of former OSU coach John Cooper to the dumpster fire that Michigan endured under Rich Rodriguez, but there is similarities in each coach's mindset, and each coach's tenure are great examples of where this rivalry went off-track slightly. Cooper was not an OSU guy, and Rodriguez was in a galaxy far, far away from being a "Michigan man". Both looked at the annual border war as just another game with higher stakes, both never quite "got" what the contest meant to both teams. At least not until each were given a pink slip and box of chocolates for not beating the other.

Thanks, but we're moving on.

Quite simply put, the period of time between Cooper getting his hind-quarters handed to him by EVERY coach that bought real estate in Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez serving as Jim Tressel's annual bonus clause, both sides never were on the same page with the meaning of what the end of the year contest meant.

And that brings us to today. We knew that Jim Tressel had done his homework on all things Michigan, and that Urban Meyer could write a dissertation on the topic . He was an Ohio guy and idolized the late Woody Hayes. But perhaps even more important to this little game is what another Ohio guy -- Brady Hoke -- has done from the Michigan side to get both fires burning at the same time.

It all starts with words. Sorry Spartan fans, but no longer is there any chatter about Michigan State being an equal rival for the winged helmets, and there is no longer any talk about Notre Dame being the most important game on the schedule. No, instead, that game is The Game against "Ohio." That was made clear in the opening presser to introduce the new "Michigan guy" in charge of leading the resurgence in Ann Arbor.

Calling The Ohio State University by simply "Ohio" may not be the equivalent of a well-conceived bomb being dropped over High Street in central Ohio, but it was a sly move that poked the bully. And it hasn't ended there. Far from it.

There are little and not so little details everywhere to suggest that Hoke gets this rivalry much like Woody and Bo did. In the Michigan locker room for instance there is a sign the keeps count of how many days it's been since the Wolverines have defeated Ohio State. There are clocks that even count down to the game -- at all times. Then there's another reminder in the locker room. The schedule has the annual grudge between the two teams in red. And yes, it fittingly says Ohio. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Oh, and those footballs that are made in Ohio? Tssk. This year the Wolverines -- at least for a period of time -- were experimenting with footballs from Adidas stamped aptly "Made in USA, Not in Ohio" (unlike most others). And those practice jerseys for quarterbacks that signify no contact? They are red on most college campuses, but not one where Darth Vader's main color is scarlet. No thanks, give the boys orange instead.

That doesn't cover it all of course, but you get the point. And while not all of the wrinkles in this rivalry's psyche are all a direct result of Hoke's brainstorming, they are all occurring because he has planted the seeds of thought that have led to the wild ride of brainwashing that's taking shape in Ann Arbor. There are two seasons in one. All the games leading up to Ohio State, and then the game against Ohio State.

It's all good fun too -- no matter what fans sitting on the banks of the Olentangy in Columbus will tell you. For this rivalry has always been more of a hoot when both teams aggravate each other at all times of the year.

Thankfully for all of us, Brady Hoke has a firm grasp on that concept.

Phil is the lead Big Ten columnist for CFN. Follow him @PhilHarrisonCFN

Comment by sending Phil an E-mail.

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