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.
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