New faces, same old rivalry
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A direction is now the only suitable way to identify one rival.
"I just don't say it," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I don't want to have to do push-ups."
The other team simply refers to a state, shortening the name of its nemesis in half.
It only took a few minutes into his introductory news conference for Michigan coach Brady Hoke to bust out his first "Beat Ohio," and he hasn't slowed down since.
The first step to stoking the flame of The Game is to understand the hatred, the passion and the history.
Meyer and Hoke have no problem doing that, much to the delight of their players and fans.
But if they're going to take it to the level of their most famous predecessors and create a Ten Year War II, the guys in charge of the Buckeyes and Wolverines can't simply talk like Woody and Bo. They're going to have to coach like them.
The feud doesn't really need the fresh start afforded by the recent changes at the top. The sense of pride in winning the final game of the regular season isn't ever going to change, and the yearlong animosity hasn't exactly waned between Michigan and Ohio State.
But The Game hasn't been quite as relevant nationally since the epic No. 1 versus No. 2 affair in 2006, with the SEC sweeping its way to crystal footballs and shifting the spotlight to its marquee rivalries while Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel made their respective ways to the exit.
Carr's replacement never seemed to fit the culture at Michigan, and Rich Rodriguez might have had more fans in the Horseshoe than in the Big House during his brief tenure.
The NCAA turmoil that enveloped the Buckeyes ended Tressel's dominant run, which included seven consecutive wins, counting one in what would be his last try, a blowout in 2010 that was vacated for Tressel's role in the scandal that produced this year's postseason ban.
But Tressel's winning streak is emblematic of another issue that seems to be holding back the perception of the rivalry around the country.
The Buckeyes dominated the past decade. Michigan owned the late 1980s and rolled through the '90s.
The Ten Year War from 1969-78 became a must-see event, not only because the stakes were so high for both teams but also because the series was played evenly and at a high level.
With Hoke and Meyer in place, both schools appear poised to return to that level.
Even without a chance to craft the Wolverines in his image, Hoke has already proved he is capable of winning big. He picked up a National Coach of the Year award in his first season at Michigan, guiding the Wolverines to 11 wins and a victory in the Sugar Bowl. A former defensive line coach who was a part of three Big Ten titles with the program, he doesn't need any advice about the importance of "Beating Ohio."
Meyer hasn't coached a game yet with the Buckeyes, but his résumé speaks for itself. A pair of national championships at Florida followed a perfect season with Utah, and there was already some talent waiting for him in Columbus despite the rare losing campaign the program suffered a year ago.
A native son and a former staff member, Meyer doesn't need anybody to tell him "That Team Up North" defines legacies at Ohio State.
It's possible the bar was set too high by the original to ever really be reached again, but the first shots of a sequel have been fired verbally. The first battle of a Ten Year War II could be waged in November.
A new era's War
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer knew Bo and Woody. They'd probably even be the ones to tell you that they are not Bo and Woody.
This won't be a poetic reminiscence about how it was better way back when. However, The Ten Year War was something completely different and special in sporting culture. To say that Hoke and Meyer can recreate that would be tough to do, and not only from the results on the field.
College football was much different when Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes coached at Michigan and Ohio State. There wasn't as much competition within the Big Ten. There wasn't a definitive national championship game or even a conference championship game. Many times, the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game wouldn't even play in a bowl.
Now, it'd be surprising if both teams aren't heading to Florida, Arizona or California at the end of December or beginning of January. (Ohio State in 2012 excluded.)
The Big Ten has more talent throughout. Nebraska and Penn State -- despite how far the Nittany Lions might fall in the near future -- have been added to the conference, and Wisconsin and Michigan State have emerged as programs on the cusp of the top tier of college football. Not so in the Hayes-Schembechler Era, when the Wolverines and Buckeyes trumped the rest of the teams in the league most years.
The other problem is exposure. There is just more of it. Everywhere. There are more high-level teams, more games on television, more bowl games and more dollars being spread around. With each additional team added to high-level college football and every game placed on television, the mystique of games -- even rivalries -- dissipates.
Heck, if the situation falls correctly, Michigan and Ohio State could end up playing each other two weeks in a row if both schools make the Big Ten championship game.
There's one other reason why the Ten Year War likely won't happen again -- Schembechler and Hayes. Not that Hoke and Meyer can't ascend to approximately their level at their respective schools, but rather that the allure of Woody and Bo came in their intertwined history before Schembechler even reached Ann Arbor. Schembechler played for Hayes at Miami (Ohio) and coached under him at Ohio State.
Meyer and Hoke have never been on the same staff. Other than both coaching in the Mid-American Conference and growing up in Ohio, not much has them tied to each other. Not having that prior relationship will automatically turn the coaching portion of that rivalry down at least a notch. There is no mentor-versus-pupil dynamic.
Coaches aren't made like Bo or Woody -- or many of the coaches from that era -- anymore. Due to money, pressure and stress (or lack of success), coaches don't stay at schools for decades. Schembechler and Hayes were at their schools for more than 20 years.
Today, there are two Football Bowl Subdivision coaches who have been on the sideline for their school for 20 years -- Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Troy's Larry Blakeney. Kansas State's Bill Snyder and Nevada's Chris Ault have also reached the 20-year mark, but each took breaks between stints at the school.
To think both Hoke and Meyer will be at their schools for that type of length is probably not realistic.
For another Ten Year War to happen, all of these factors would have to fall into place. The chances of that are slim.