Urban Meyer – 1; Jim Harbaugh – 0

There was plenty of hype leading up to this game, and frankly it was justified. While Michigan has been a miserable mess against Ohio State since Jim Tressel arrived at the beginning of this millennium, things were poised to become more interesting with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh.

Ohio State is the reigning national champ, and Urban Meyer is now the king of the hill in Columbus, but Harbaugh gave Michigan fans hope.

Many thought it might take a couple of years for Harbaugh to compete with the Buckeyes, but as this season progressed, attitudes started to change. The Buckeyes were sleepwalking through their schedule, while Michigan rolled off three straight shutouts. Suddenly, many of the talking heads started calling Michigan the best team in the Big Ten.

Then Michigan State spoiled some of the hype. They miraculously beat Michigan on a wild final play, and then stunned Ohio State last weekend with some serious defense and an assist from Ohio State’s coaching staff.

Still, this was shaping up to be an epic battle that would kick off a new phase in the iconic rivalry. Would we have another ten-year war reminiscent of Woody and Bo?

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Under Brady Hoke, the focus is now clear again in Ann Arbor: Beat Ohio State.

Whether you’re a Michigan fan that despised what Rich Rodriguez did to the program or one of the few who thought he would eventually right the ship, you have to at least appreciate what new head coach Brady Hoke is trying to do in Ann Arbor.

He’s trying to find a kicker? Well, yeah. He’s trying to find a kicker. He’s also trying to make it as seamless a transition as possible for quarterback Denard Robinson, who is currently learning Al Borges’ pro-style offense after running RichRod’s spread option for the past couple of years. Hoke needs to fix the mess that Rodriguez left him on defense as well.

But above all that, Hoke’s focus is simple: Beat Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are currently in a hell of their own making. Unlike their rivals in Ann Arbor, they have the players on both sides of the ball to win Big Ten championships. It’s just that some of those players decided it was a okay to trade memorabilia for free tattoos and, along with their head coach Jim Tressel, will be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season.

But Hoke’s message has nothing to do with kicking an enemy while it’s down. Despite the hatred, the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry has always been about mutual respect. (The latest example of that was in Friday’s Detroit Free Press when Hoke referred to Tressel as “a good man.”) Hoke doesn’t want to just take advantage of the Buckeyes’ predicament: he wants to beat Ohio State because that’s what Michigan coaches have to do. It should be priority No. 1 and if that happens, then everything else should fall into place.

Among other things, that’s something Rodriguez never fully grasped. He never beat Ohio State or Michigan State, which is unacceptable in the eyes of Wolverine fans. You’re not going to beat OSU every year, but you damn better well make it a focus regardless.

While reading this NBC Sports article, I found it interesting that Hoke has two clocks near his office at Schembechler Hall. One of the clocks is ticking down the time until Michigan plays Michigan State again. The other clock ticks down the time until the Wolverines face the Buckeyes. In between the two clocks is a red number that goes up every day. That number represents the days it has been since Michigan last beat Ohio State, which is now more than 2,600 and counting.

It’s going to take some time for Hoke to turn things around in Ann Arbor but at least the man has his priorities straight.

If we had a playoff system . . .

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor  of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with fans after beating the University of Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Ohio State won 20-17 over Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images).

If we had a playoff system, today would have been a very dramatic day in college football. Instead, games that would have had huge national championship implications with an eight-team playoff system were just big games that affected the bowl picture. What a waste.

One of the dumber arguments repeated by defenders of the current BCS system involves the excitement surrounding games as teams battle for the top two spots. Sure, many games are exciting throughout the year with this system, but so many more games would be exciting to fans across the country if teams were battling for eight spots instead of two.

Let’s assume we had a system that had the top eight BCS teams square off in a playoff format for the national championship. Heading into this weekend, the top 25 teams in the BCS were as follows:

1 Oregon
2 Auburn
4 Boise State
6 Stanford
7 Wisconsin
8 Nebraska
9 Ohio State
10 Oklahoma State
11 Alabama
12 Michigan State
13 Arkansas
14 Oklahoma
15 Missouri
16 Virginia Tech
17 South Carolina
18 Nevada
19 Texas A&M
20 Iowa
21 Mississippi State
22 Arizona
23 Utah
24 Miami (FL)
25 Florida State

With several weekends left, many teams still had a shot at the final eight, so all of the games involving the top 15 teams would have serious implications for the national title hunt. This week produced a number of wild games that went down to the wire, and college football fans would have been glued to their big screens watching the final minutes as #5 LSU survived against Ole Miss in a dizzying fourth quarter. Meanwhile, #8 Nebraska was clinging to the last playoff spot, until they suffered a 9-6 upset at the hands of #19 Texas A&M. This was great news for Ohio State fans, as the #9 Buckeyes survived their own nail-biter against #20 Iowa with a huge fourth down run from Terrelle Pryor on the game-winning drive to put them in a position to move into that last playoff spot. That must have killed Oklahoma State fans, as they probably needed the Buckeyes to lose in order to claim that last spot. Next week they would have been gathering in bars and the homes of family and friends to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game, hoping that RichRod’s hapless defense could rise to the occasion and help to pull a miracle upset against the Buckeyes.

Fans of all the teams ranked within striking distance of the top eight would have been in a frenzy watching all of these games, and all college football fans would have enjoyed all of the games that much more with playoff spots at stake. Also, many rivalry games would take on that much more importance. Next week, Michigan fans would have something huge to play for in addition to their classic rivalry with Ohio State. Instead of hoping to deny the Buckeyes a chance at a playoff berth for the national championship, they would just be playing to deny them a share of the Big Ten title. Big deal. Apart from a general interest in that game from college football fans, a playoff system would make that game and many other games must-see TV for practically all college football fans.

Instead, we’re just waiting to see if Oregon and Auburn get beat so that we can watch TCU and Boise State play for the most meaningless national championship in the history of college football.

Mitch Albom reacts to Rich Rodriguez’s “Get a life” comments

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press has two separate thoughts on Rich Rodriguez’s recent comments that Michigan fans should “Get a life.”

Rich RodriguezBut I am of two minds on Rodriguez’s comments. On one level, he is absolutely correct. The venom that you find on blogs or on talk radio is beyond fandom. It comes from a darker place: Anger, frustration, jealousy spit out in almost murderous tones — all of it masked by a Web name so no one has to admit who he is or where you can find him.

After all, these are college kids. They don’t get paid; they are, in some cases, one year out of high school. Compared to real issues — the economy is just one — their losing games is minor. Rodriguez is right about that.

On the other hand, if things were going well, no amount of hype would be too much for Rodriguez. The bigger the hoopla, the higher the ratings, the more precious the tickets — the happier he would be. The same guy who is saying “look at the economy” wasn’t trying to keep football in perspective when he broke his contract with West Virginia and took a huge one in Ann Arbor, including millions the school had to pay to free him from his WVU obligations.

He came here fluffed with hype, a whiz kid set to turn around a solid but stodgy program and gun the motor to a national championship. Instead, he got a little drunk on his own reviews, took a few shots to the chin and the gut, and is staggering home as night falls. He says “get a life.” The fans say “get a team.” And all most people want is to get this season over with.

I think this season was good for Rich Rod. He got knocked on his ass for the first time in his career and now he realizes that he can’t plug just any player into his system and make it run like a corvette. And let’s be honest – he got what he deserved for leaving WVU in the lurch.

But all this will be moot in a couple of years. He still has plenty of recruiting power at Michigan and he’ll eventually land the quarterback he needs to run his spread option offense. The Wolverines will be relevant again, but it won’t be this weekend in Columbus.

Rodriguez tells Michigan fans to “get a life”

Facing the prospect of losing nine games, including a possible fifth-straight loss to arch-rival Ohio State, Michigan fans are in a sour mood. Naturally, some of them having been taking out their frustrations on their new coach. Rich Rodriguez is feeling the heat.

Heading into his first Michigan-Ohio State game — where the Wolverines are expected to extend their dubious record with a ninth loss — he tried to deliver a message to fans who have lost touch.

“It’s amazing some of the things that people would say (on a message board) or yell at you of a personal nature,” Rodriguez said Monday. “You almost want to tell them, `Get a life.’

“There’s a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy.”

College football’s winningest team has tumbled like the stock market, losing a school-record eight games and getting beat a Michigan Stadium-record five times at home.

For the first time since 1974, the Wolverines will be relegated to watching bowl games.

The 10th-ranked Buckeyes are favored to beat their rivals on Saturday at home by 19 points, matching the largest spread in series history, and win at least a share of the Big Ten title for the fourth year in a row.

Hey Rich – welcome to big-time college football. What did you expect when you abandoned West Virginia and signed your huge contact?

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