NCF Nation: Monday Night Football
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Midwesterners are generally regarded as nice people, not the types to be categorized as haters. But one football program has rankled this normally genial crowd for most of the last decade. One program has earned the title as the Big Ten's most hated team, or, as Ohio State would put it, The Big Ten's Most Hated Team.
The hate for Ohio State can't be pigeonholed.
Despite the Maurice Clarett saga and several other off-field stains, this isn't Miami. Jim Tressel is lampooned for his sweater vests, more suited for professors or politicians than football coaches. In many ways, he's the anti-Woody Hayes -- composed, reserved, even bland at times -- but he projects an image seen by some as arrogant and inauthentic. Still, Tressel doesn't stoke the fire like the Head Ball Coach, Phil Fulmer or, more recently, Charlie Weis. Ohio State's fans, regarded by some as crude and classless, probably heighten the hate more than anything else. The rioting after the 2002 game against Michigan certainly didn't help the image of Buckeye Nation. But there's more to it.
Success breeds contempt and Ohio State is enjoying more of it than any other Big Ten program. Since 2002, the Buckeyes are 66-11 with a national championship, four shared or outright Big Ten titles and three national title game appearances. The program has produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Troy Smith and dozens of NFL players. As annoying as it is to hear former Buckeyes introduce themselves as coming from "The Ohio State University" on Monday Night Football, it's also a testament to the program's ability to recruit and develop talent.
Ohio State has been condemned nationally for its flops in the last two BCS title games, and cries of "Overrated!" can usually be heard when the Buckeyes are brought up. But in the Big Ten, Ohio State continues to dominate, losing just two league games in the last three years. The Buckeye vitriol has undoubtedly increased among Michigan fans, accustomed to seeing their team as the Big Ten's best, and, consequently, the most hated. But after four consecutive losses to Ohio State and six in the last seven seasons, Michigan, like its Big Ten brethren, is looking up at the Buckeyes. Michigan used to be the league's most arrogant team. Now the Buckeyes have earned the right to that title.
For the Buckeyes to get knocked off their perch atop the hate-o-meter, the rest of the Big Ten has to catch up. Ohio State has consistently recruited better than any other league team, culminating this spring with the signing of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who botched the school's official title ("University of Ohio State") and left out the all-important definite article before the name. Rich Rodriguez's arrival at Michigan could shift the league's power balance, and Illinois' recent recruiting surge puts it closer to Ohio State. But for now, the Buckeyes are the clear choice.