Old grudge match has new feel with Hoke, Meyer

Once upon a time, ”The Game” was just another game.

When Michigan and Ohio State played, sure, it was important.

After all, the schools put it at the end of their schedules in 1935

in recognition of that fact.

But it never really was an epic battle until two longtime

friends ended up on opposite sides and transformed it into an

over-the-top grudge match.

”The Bo Schembechler/Woody Hayes era, when college football

began to explode on a national level – that’s what made this such a

visual rivalry for the country to see,” said Ohio State coach

Urban Meyer.

Now, more than 40 years later, two coaches steeped in the

rivalry – each more than willing to toss a little disrespect toward

the other side – will be prowling the sidelines in the 109th

meeting on Saturday.

Is this the second coming of the ”Ten Year War”?

”It’s a new face for the rivalry, of course, but the rivalry is

bigger than any one individual,” said Michigan offensive lineman

Patrick Omahmeh.

Just like Schembechler and Hayes, Meyer and Michigan’s Brady

Hoke are ultra-competitive Ohio natives who don’t hide the fact

that they can barely abide their chief rival.

Hoke refers to Ohio State as just ”Ohio,” which makes Buckeyes

fans’ blood boil. Meyer has taken a page from Hayes and refuses to

utter the ”M-word,” instead calling it ”That Team Up

North.”

A chippiness has returned to this staid old annual showdown. It

was already evident a year ago when the sides traded shoves,

obscenities and taunts in Hoke’s first game (a 40-34 victory) as a

head coach in the series.

It’s even more palpable this year with Meyer joining the fray,

25 years after he was a graduate assistant on Earle Bruce’s staff

and learned firsthand from Hayes, Bruce and the others to despise

the Wolverines.

Hoke is not sold on the theory that the head coaches, at least

since the last of the 10 Schembechler-Hayes battles in 1978, have

much influence on the rivalry. But he does agree that it doesn’t

hurt when both ”get” what the game means to so many.

”There’s a lot of passion on both sides,” he said. ”When

you’ve kind of grown up in the rivalry – either in the state of

Ohio or in the state of Michigan – you understand it’s the most

important game of the year.”

Adding to the enmity this year – so often the case – is both

sides having a lot riding on the outcome.

The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) want to complete

a perfect season – if perfection is even possible without going to

a bowl. NCAA sanctions have sidelined Ohio State from the national

championship conversation.

The Buckeyes have already won the Big Ten’s Leaders Division,

but cannot play in the title game next week. They will get a trophy

and each of the players will be fitted for championship rings.

The No. 20 Wolverines (8-3, 6-1) are shooting to upgrade to an

even better bowl. No one in maize and blue is saying it, but

upsetting the Buckeyes’ dreams of an unbeaten, untied season

wouldn’t be so bad, either.

The Wolverines were hoping to grab a spot in the Big Ten

championship game, but No. 17 Nebraska – which owned the

tie-breaker by virtue of its win over Michigan – beat Iowa 13-7 on

Friday to represent the Legends Division. The Wolverines, who had

playing in the title game as one of their major goals, can still

grab a share of the division crown with a win over the

Buckeyes.

Michigan’s hopes rise and fall on a defense that leads the

nation against the pass but is considerably less stout against the

run – which happens to be Ohio State’s strength.

The Buckeyes depend on quarterback Braxton Miller’s legs,

whether on set plays or when a pass play breaks down and he sprints

past lunging linemen through the heart of the field for big

yardage.

The Wolverines also rely on their quarterback. Now they just

have to figure out who their quarterback is.

Devin Gardner has started the last three games, accounting for

at least three TDs in each, since four-year star Denard Robinson

hurt a nerve in his throwing elbow. Now Robinson may see time at

tailback, in the slot, out wide or even under center. It’s the

biggest mystery in a game where there are few unknowns.

”I’m here and I’m ready for Ohio,” Robinson said.

Hayes once co-wrote a book titled, ”You Win With People.” He

believed that it was the coach’s domain to stockpile talent and

then put players in the best position to win, but that the athletes

did the rest.

Meyer believes coaches handle the preparation and set the

tone.

”Getting your guys prepared up to the kickoff, getting the team

mentally and physically ready to go,” he said of his role.

”Ultimately it is the players who win or lose games.”

Spoken just like his iconic predecessors.

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap