Michigan is a perennial contender whenever there is a ranking for best college game-day ambiance. As you might imagine, the intensity pulsates even stronger when the dreaded Ohio State Buckeyes are in Ann Arbor for another showdown in one of college football's defining rivalries.
In southwestern Ohio in the 90s, Saturdays in late November were masochistic rituals filled with anger and hate for adolescent Johnny Ginter. He wanted nothing more than the ability to show up at school on Monday and taunt the contrarian little wieners who rooted for Michigan because of their helmets ("You're from Ohio! Ohio State! Why is this so hard for you?!"). That would've been cool.
Instead, a 2-10-1 record against That Team Up North during the John Cooper years fostered an intense, reflexive hatred of all things Michigan. A hatred that has lasted during a very successful decade which has sustained both myself and the Buckeye fanbase at large will now fuel a necessary and gleeful beatdown on this particular Saturday in late November. We've always been at war with Eastasia, and we love being at war with Eastasia.
Make no mistake of it -- Ohio State will beat Michigan in the Big House this Saturday. The Buckeyes will beat them by a lot of points, because they are a very good team with things like competent coaching, an excellent multi-dimensional offense led by very handsome running back, an opportunistic defense, and a starting quarterback not held together by chicken wire and children's letters to Santa. Michigan right now has none of those things.
Here's what the Wolverines do have:
• A rushing game that should come with a Werner Herzog narration and has put up fewer yards in a month than Braxton Miller accumulated in one half against Indiana.
• An offensive line comprised of CPR dummies.
• Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love with inspirational quotes written in the margins.
• The growing feeling that after going 2-4 in their last six games, maybe this season isn't going quite the way they planned.
In response, my Wolverine counterpart for this column might bring up tattoos, shady clubs, suspensions, Urban Meyer's health, and maybe Ryan Shazier's alopecia if they wanted to be particularly mean. Which frankly I have zero problem with. It's all well and good and in the spirit of the rivalry.
You know what else is in the spirit of the rivalry? Both teams being good.
For the past several years, Ohio State has held up its end of the bargain, and this year has been no exception as the Buckeyes have brought a fun and exciting brand of football to a conference sorely lacking in that department. Michigan has not been doing its part, and for this grievous sin Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Michael Bennett, and the psychically directed hate of 11.5 million Ohioans will punish Brady Hoke and company for 60 very long minutes.
In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan met on the field of play and fans cheered on two teams and programs at the height of their powers. It was a celebration of Midwestern football and a confirmation of what we still know to be true: This is the best rivalry in all of sports.
2013 is not that. 2013 is where we finally shake Michigan out of its cocoon of hubris and once again teach it exactly what Wayne Woodrow Hayes meant when he said that "There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."Full Story >>
When Ohio State invades Ann Arbor on Saturday with a 23-game winning streak in tow, it will do so as heavy favorites. And rightfully so. Michigan hasn't held up its part of the rivalry over the past decade and the way the past few weeks have gone there's little reason to think Michigan can even compete.
Still, there are several reasons for the Wolverine faithful to have hope: 1969, 1993, 1995, and 1996 to name a few. In each of those seasons, Ohio State came in heavily favored and was sent home with a loss.
The 1969 Buckeyes were dubbed the greatest college football team of all time, riding a 22-game winning streak. They hadn't won by fewer than 27 points all season and were favored to beat Michigan by 17. Instead, Bo sent Woody home with a 24-12 defeat.
The 1993 Buckeyes came to Ann Arbor unbeaten and left with what head coach John Cooper described as one of the most embarrassing games he's ever been involved with. A 6-4 Michigan squad won 28-0.
In 1995, the undefeated Buckeyes arrived in town unbeaten and ranked No. 2, but 8-3 Michigan again ruined any hope of a national title with a 31-23 win. This time, the unheralded Tim Biakabutuka outperformed the eventual Heisman winner Eddie George with a 313-yard rushing performance.
A year later, in 1996, the Buckeyes met the same fate -- No. 2 Ohio State entered the game and left with its first loss of the season, a 13-9 defeat at the hands of an 8-3 Michigan team.
Ohio State fans will tell you those instances mean nothing now. Rivals love to tell Michigan fans to stop living in the past. Frankly, I can't blame them. There's a reason people love to hate the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Red Wings and the Lakers. Each has a storied history of success and a universal and proud fan base, and each is despised by those on the outside looking in.
Likewise, we Wolverine fans aren't insecure about who we are. Win or lose, we’re proud because we have an unparalleled history to fall back on. Want to call us 'That Team Up North?' Go ahead. It's true. Michigan is north of Ohio. Glad you passed geography. And until your fan base and band start spelling out S-T-A-T-E too, stop crying about Brady Hoke calling you Ohio.
But I digress.
The truth of the matter is Ohio State needs Michigan to be good, and vise versa. With the current state of the Big Ten relative to other conferences, Ohio State needs to beat a highly ranked Michigan team at the end of the season to secure a national title chance. Of course, this year, Michigan isn't highly ranked, but the game is still hugely significant.
Michigan is going through a rough time, but it did so in the 1950s and 60s as well, and emerged just fine for another 40 years. The 1969 win over Woody's best team was the catapult.
No, the past history of the rivalry doesn't make Michigan any better than Ohio State this Saturday. But it shows a precedent for the unthinkable happening. That's the nature of this rivalry. With nothing left to play for this season, Michigan would love nothing more than to ruin Ohio State's season once again.
Michigan and Ohio State are indelibly linked. Many of us have family members on the other side. Many of Michigan's greatest players have come from the state of Ohio. We hate them and they hate us, yet we respect each other just the same. But at the end of the day, we never forget that Ohio is still a four-letter word.Full Story >>
Before Tom Brady became Gisele-marrying, Super Bowl-winning, Movado-endorsing Tom Brady, and before Nick Saban's restoring Alabama to the top of college football's elite, Michigan and Alabama played in an epic Orange Bowl match-up in 2000. If there was a way that Brady could suit up against 'Bama today, the sheer force of their combined star power might short-circuit the entire football universe.
But nearly 14 years ago, Brady was perhaps best known for being the guy who climbed six spots on the Wolverines' depth chart to beat out NFL quarterback prospect Drew Henson for the starting QB job. The highest honor he had earned up to that point was an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. In fact, the Heisman candidate playing in the game was actually on the opposing sideline in the form of All-SEC running back Shaun Alexander. NFL MVP awards and romances with supermodels and actresses were not yet in the cards. He was just a scrappy kid from Northern California who threw a great ball.
As for Alabama, it was working its way through a post-championship era that lacked the recognition and accomplishments of previous Crimson Tide teams. The Tide won a championship in 1992 under Gene Stallings, but had failed to win another under new head coach Mike DuBose and had been dethroned by teams like Florida State, Nebraska and Florida.
While both teams were ranked in the top ten (Alabama was sixth and Michigan was eighth), they had the distinction of playing the number one and two toughest schedules in the country, respectively. That they survived with enough wins to face each other in a BCS game is a testament to each team's toughness. They were both prepared for a dog fight in the Orange Bowl, or as star Michigan wide receiver David Terrell would say after the game, "Everything is not rose petals when it's a street fight."
The street fight ended up being the BCS' first overtime game, with Michigan coming back twice from 14-point deficits to win. The instant classic featured outstanding performances by two future stars in Brady and Alexander.
Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns, with three of them going to Terrell. Alexander rushed for 161 and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard game breaker. Michigan was down 14-7 at halftime and Alabama's offensive and defensive lines were controlling the game, bottling up Michigan's running game while opening up enough holes for Alexander to bust through for some big runs.
"We've got to be able to throw the football better," Coach Carr said in his halftime interview with Lynn Swann. "We're obviously having a hard time running it. We're gonna have to play our best half of football."
Bob Griese, who was working the game, said that the offenses weren't playing well and that the defenses would have to step up for each team.
"The defenses are going to have to turn the ball over to help the offenses if the offenses don't improve," he said in his halftime analysis.
Griese was likely echoing what both coaches were preaching in their halftime talks, and both offenses listened, exploding in the third quarter for a combined 35 points. However, that offensive outburst was then followed up with zeroes by both teams in the fourth quarter leading into overtime.
On the first play of overtime, Brady hit tight end Shawn Thompson off a play fake for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 35-28 lead. It only took Alabama two plays to score their own touchdown, when 'Bama QB Andrew Zow threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Carter.
The stage was set for each team to throw knockout blows for at least one more OT, but then, the unthinkable happened: Alabama's placekicker Ryan Pflugner pushed the extra point wide right, giving Michigan the win.
While euphoric celebration broke out on Michigan's sideline, announcer Brad Nessler described it best for Alabama: "Fate has dealt them an ugly blow in this Orange Bowl."
For Michigan star Tom Brady, however, fate was just beginning to smile on him.Full Story >>
Jeff Holzhausen was a Michigan fan long before he set foot on campus as a student. But once he did, Holzhausen carved out an identity in the spirit of a superhero -- complete with costume -- to become an institution in Ann Arbor. Check out the home and the loyal spirit of the Michigan man who started a movement:
Tennessee fans can tell you plenty about the the unique culture of Volunteers football. But there is something special about hearing directly from former Vols All-American running back and coach Johnny Majors, which made our game day in Knoxville all the more special.
In case you missed it, Monday was the one-year anniversary of Derek Dooley's firing as the Tennessee football coach.
Fittingly, Butch Jones took a step back on Monday to survey the time elapsed since.
"We've taken monumental strides of where we're at right now than we walked in here on Dec. 7," Jones said at his press luncheon. " Sometimes, the progress isn't measured in wins, but I see the small victories each and every day."
The unfortunate truth for Jones, however, is that on Saturday, UT fans should and probably will measure the progress of the football program by what happens on the field against Vanderbilt.
UT is 28-2 in its past 30 games against the Commodores. If, heaven forbid, the Vols lose to Vandy for a second straight year on Saturday, it will be a fourth straight loss on the year and eliminate the possibility of a bowl game.
That should never be OK at Tennessee. It shouldn't matter if Nick Saban is coaching at Vanderbilt and the Vols are playing at West High School because of structural failure at Neyland Stadium.
Any UT supporter who takes even the slightest amount of pride in the Tennessee's football program should shudder in disgust at the idea of losing consecutive games to the in-state little brother that essentially does play in a high school stadium in Nashville.
If that loss eliminates UT from the postseason, it should sting even more.
That's not to say Vanderbilt hasn't made great strides under James Franklin. Obviously, it has. And UT is not what it was in the 1990s.
To no avail, a loss to Vanderbilt ought to hurt. It apparently hurt Michael Palardy last season when the Vols dropped a 41-18 decision at Vanderbilt Stadium and capped Dooley's demise.
"I try not to remember it," Palardy said Monday. "It was kind of a disappointing season on all accounts. For me personally, I just wanted to make sure that something like that never happened ever again."
If the Vols win, they are likely to make a bowl game. That on-field success combined with a remarkable 2014 recruiting class will make for jubilant UT fans who remain in the honeymoon stage of their infatuation with the post-Dooley era.
But a loss on Saturday gives fans reasonable privilege to put Jones under the microscope for year two.
It should not give fans a reason to panic yet, just reason to view things through a more critical eye in 2014 once some of the talent Jones is missing starts arriving.
"We aren't dealing with robots, we are dealing with 17-to-22 year old individuals," Jones said of his players Monday.
UT supporters are not robots, either. While the Vanderbilt game to Jones is "a critical game because it is the next game on our schedule," it should be critical game to UT fans if for no other reason than losing to the Commodores should be embarrassing.
Saturday is more than just the next game. It determines if the year-long honeymoon continues.Full Story >>
OK, Tennessee, it's officially the biggest week of your season. Before I even get into the formal smack talk section of this article, can we take a second and recognize that that last sentence alone pretty much sums up how far your program has fallen?
The success of your season hinges on the Vanderbilt game. And by "success" all we're really talking about is potentially eking out bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.
Let that sink in. I’ll wait.
I can see you UT fans shaking your heads in disbelief. I can hear you asking yourselves how it has come to this. I can feel your despair as you cry out, "How are we only favored by a field goal at home against a tiny private school we’ve beaten 28 times in the last 30 years?" And no, those numbers are not a misprint.
Simply put, Vandy is finally a player in the college football world. We're not deluding ourselves; it's not like we're winning a national championship next year, let alone an SEC title. But we're at least good enough to lay a 41-18 beat down on our biggest rivals. (That was last year.)
My beloved 'Dores are on to their third bowl game in three years under Coach James "I'm Not Leaving for USC" Franklin.
Over the past 17 games, Vanderbilt has the third most wins in the conference, behind only Alabama and Texas A&M.
Not everyone loves Franklin's brash, in-your-face style, but due to his recruiting prowess and relentless selling of the school, Vandy is undoubtedly a program on the rise.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has a 10-28 conference record since Phil Fulmer was fired. First, there was the Lane Kiffin debacle. Everybody knows about that. The wunderkind coach humiliated the once-proud Volunteer fan base and they'll never forget it.
Then came Derek Dooley. Boy, that was good for some laughs. He has the honorable distinction of losing to Kentucky for the first time in 28 matchups. If anyone's missed Dooley, he can now be seen getting yelled at on NFL sidelines by Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.
And now there's bUTch Jones. Even I will admit that the jury's still out on him, but it doesn't bode well that the only time this season that anyone outside of Knoxville has come close to paying any attention to the Vawls was when they were getting obliterated by Nick Saban's boys.
So we're looking at two teams who are essentially opposite images of each other.
One is vastly outperforming several decades of lost seasons. The other is struggling mightily to regain previous heights in a beefed-up SEC.
One has an NFL first-round wide receiver who recently became the conference’s all-time leader in yardage. The other is in danger of missing a bowl game for the third straight year.
You do the math. Who’s going to win on Saturday?
-- David Schuman is a Vanderbilt alum and an aspiring TV news reporter looking for his first job so if you know anyone in the business, give him a holler via Twitter @david_schuman.Full Story >>
No Peyton, No Problem.
If a T-shirt was going to be made about the 1998 Tennessee football team, the above slogan may have perfectly described the squad that went on to win the national championship one year after Peyton Manning left for the NFL. But who needs a T-Shirt when you have Tee Martin?
Jamal Lewis, the eventual Super Bowl Champion and single-season 2,000-yard NFL rusher, was a sophomore on that Tennessee team and was close to its starting quarterack, Martin.
"Tee was my mentor and helped bring me along,” Lewis says. "He was like my big brother. I always knew he could play. He had a big arm, and he could use his legs to get out of tough situations. I came off a great freshman season and we had planned to rely more on the running game after Peyton left to help get Tee more comfortable."
When Manning was quarterbacking the team, both Lewis and one of the team's captains, kicker Jeff Hall, say that during his tenure, it always felt like everything was riding on his shoulders. After Manning, there was a palpable sense that everyone on the following year's team knew they'd have to do their part and stay loyal to each other to win.
"Every successful football team has that 'us against the world' mentality," Hall says. "Whether it's camaraderie or chemistry, we had a little bit of that. There were not a lot of high expectations because of all the guys we lost to the NFL after 1997."
In addition to Manning, Tennessee cornerback Terry Fair and wide receiver Marcus Nash were also taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft. Leonard Little, Jonathan Brown, Trey Teague and Andy McCullough were selected by NFL teams too. Yet plenty of NFL-level talent still remained in Knoxville.
"Lots of guys had their breakout years in 1998,” Hall says. “Peerless Price had his best year, and Al Wilson was the life and spirit of our team and he got better every year.”
Tennessee's season opened against a Syracuse team led by Donovan McNabb. Though the Vols entered the season ranked 10th, and the Orangemen weren’t ranked at all, the game was extremely close, forcing Hall to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
After that, Tennessee hosted SEC rival Florida, the No. 2 team in the country and a team that Manning failed to beat while on campus.
“That game was about pride,” Lewis says. “We hadn't beaten Florida in a while, and the rivalry between Coach Spurrier and Coach Fulmer was there. It was a home game and we just knew we had to come away with that one.”
"Our defense played lights out that game and Tee was making some great plays," Hall says. "We thought, 'OK, we're onto something.' After that win the momentum started to build."
Coach Phillip Fulmer used a unique approach to keep his team focused that year as expectations rose. As Hall describes it, Fulmer bolted a ladder to the wall outside of the locker room. Each rung had a team on it that the Vols were playing that year in order of their schedule. Then there was a plate that simply said "one at a time." Each time the Vols won, the plate moved up to the next team. At the top of the ladder were rungs for SEC championship and national championship.
"I don't know if that gave us the mentality to keep winning, but in order to win at a high level, you have to focus on one game at a time,” Hall says. “You can't play down to your opponent or take a week off. You just can't do that. Each week we see these massive upsets because emotionally and mentally teams aren't prepared."
Over the coming weeks, UT beat Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina on the road, while taking down Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky at home. Lewis sustained a season-ending injury during the Auburn game. But echoing the team-over-individual ethos that his team is remembered for, he looks at his injury as a turning point for Tee Martin.
"We had gotten through a tough part of our season and then I got injured, and that's when the team really became a team,” he says. "They lost Peyton to the draft, then me, the starting running back, and now it was riding on Tee. That's where he stepped up to the plate. He knew this thing was on his shoulders at that point and it was just an awesome feeling being around that team the rest of the season, even though I was injured. Seeing the passion, the togetherness and the camaraderie that everyone was displaying ... that's what makes a championship caliber team."
Future NFL Pro-Bowler Travis Henry filled in for Lewis and played well as the team continued to improve all the way to the national championship game against Florida State.
"We had some healthy respect for Bobby Bowden and Florida State," Hall says. "Also, a lot of guys that were recruited to play at Tennessee were also recruited to play there, so this wasn't a challenge that we took for granted."
Hall missed a field goal early, but the Vols would end up winning 23-16 for the national championship behind a long touchdown pass from Martin to Price and an interception return for a touchdown by Dwayne Goodrich.
"Peyton was there, and he was congratulating everyone,” Lewis says. “He’s part of the family. Even though he didn’t win that title, he laid the foundation for us years before.”
And of course, the celebration on campus was unforgettable.
"The community and the fans and the whole state celebrated," Hall says. "It's 15 years later and people still really enjoy reliving those moments."Full Story >>
The odds of hitting this parlay must be off the boards: A Tennessee Volunteers fan who hails from ... Australia.
But that's the story of Dave Mincey. From Down Under to Rocky Top, from childhood to his wedding ... the Tennessee Volunteers football program was part of the mix.
Here is his unlikely story: