Wolverines root for Buckeyes? NEVER!
No Michigan Man worth his salt would ever want help from Ohio State to win a Big Ten championship.
Or would he?
Most of the former Michigan players interviewed this week said they couldn't bring themselves to hope for a Buckeyes win over Michigan State on Saturday even though it would keep alive the Wolverines' title hopes -- as long as they win at Penn State.
"Root for Ohio State to win?" 1971 All-America offensive lineman Reggie McKenzie asked incredulously. "I root for them to lose all the time."
The passion created by what many call the greatest rivalry in college football runs deep on both sides and extends well beyond the late-November Saturday each year when Michigan and Ohio State meet in what's simply known as "The Game." The idea of pulling for the Buckeyes in any circumstance, 1996 All-America linebacker Jarrett Irons said, is unthinkable. He's sure old Buckeyes feel the same way about Michigan.
You'll never convince Irons to put his hatred -- really, that isn't too strong a word -- on a one-week hiatus and hope Ohio State knocks the Spartans out of the East Division race. If Ohio State and Michigan win this week, it would set up a showdown in Ann Arbor, Michigan next week for a trip to the Big Ten championship game.
Of course, cheering for the Buckeyes against the Spartans would be choosing the lesser of two evils. Ohio State always will be Rival No. 1 and Michigan State No. 2. No other opponent comes close.
Jake Long, a 2006-07 All-America offensive lineman now with the Atlanta Falcons, and Jake Ryan, a rookie linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, both swallowed hard and admitted they wouldn't mind seeing Ohio State win this week.
"Whew, that's tricky," Long said. After a long pause, he said, "Well, I'm rooting for Ohio State to win. If that gives us the biggest chance to win it and go to the Big Ten championship, then I have to, yeah."
The Wolverines wouldn't be in this position if they had finished off Michigan State last month. Seared in the maize and blue's collective memory is Jalen Watts-Jackson's runback of that flubbed punt snap for a touchdown on the final play to beat Michigan 27-23. That's the Wolverines' only Big Ten loss and the one that leaves them dependent on the Buckeyes now.
"We had every opportunity to beat Michigan State just like we have every opportunity to beat Penn State and Ohio State," Irons said. "If it were to work out and Ohio State beat Michigan State and we beat Penn State and Ohio State, we'll take it. But I'm not banking on it or wishing for it because we didn't take care of our business."
Same goes for Chad Henne, the Wolverines' quarterback from 2004-07. "We should have handled it ourselves. I'm not rooting for Ohio State."
Don't bother asking first-year coach Jim Harbaugh or his players if they're going to be obsessing over the Michigan State-Ohio State game, which will start about the same time the Wolverines' game at Penn State is ending.
Harbaugh compared his team's playoff-type mentality -- needing to win to keep its chances alive of playing for the conference title -- to playing pickup basketball as a kid at Pattengill Elementary school in his hometown of Ann Arbor. The winners would stay on the court.
Harbaugh wouldn't budge when told that the difference here is that Michigan needs some help on another court, with Ohio State beating Michigan State.
"There's only one court at Pattengill," he said.
Steve Hutchinson, an All-America offensive lineman in 1999-2000 and seven-time Pro Bowler, said he wants Ohio State to win, but not because the Wolverines need the help. Hutchinson wants the defending national champion Buckeyes to be undefeated when they play Michigan next week.
"As much as you could be like a rah-rah, meathead guy, `Oh, I hope they go 0-12 every year,' no. I want them to be 11-0 going into that game. I want to beat them at the end," Hutchinson said.
McKenzie, the 65-year-old former Wolverine, said no matter what happens, he's excited about Michigan's start under Harbaugh. McKenzie said he doesn't need the Wolverines to make it to the Big Ten title game to be satisfied, especially if it takes an Ohio State victory over the Spartans to help make that happen.
"I want Michigan State to win," McKenzie said. "We'll still get to a bowl."
(AP Sports Writers Mark Long, Charles Odum, Genaro Armas, Dave Campbell and Larry Lage contributed.)