The Game overshadowed by rumors

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It took Michigan 2,926 days to beat Ohio State again.

The Buckeyes might not wait a week to try to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Former Buckeyes running back Eddie George, one of the school's six Heisman Trophy winners, said Saturday that he believes former Florida coach Urban Meyer will be introduced as Ohio State's coach sometime early next week. George said he also thought Luke Fickell, who was named the Buckeyes' interim coach after Jim Tressel resigned under pressure in late May, would be offered an opportunity to remain on the staff as the team's defensive coordinator.

"I think it's a done deal," George said, after watching the Buckeyes lose to the No. 15 Wolverines 40-34 at the Big House. "I think the signs are there and it's definitely going to happen. I think he's the perfect fit. He's a coach that wants to be at Ohio State and has ties to Ohio State. He said Ohio State is his dream job."

Meyer, who works as a college football analyst for ESPN, has denied published reports that he has already agreed to become Ohio State's next coach. Meyer, whose 2006 and 2008 Florida teams won BCS national championships, retired from coaching in December 2010 to spend more time with his family.

Meyer asked to be relieved from working as a studio analyst for ESPN this weekend and did not return multiple phone calls from ESPN.com over the last few days. A person familiar with the situation said Meyer has already offered two of his former assistants -- Florida linebackers coach/special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin and strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti -- a chance to join his staff at Ohio State.

Fickell, who played nose guard at Ohio State and has coached at his alma mater since 2002, wouldn't say whether he will coach the Buckeyes in a bowl game. Ohio State finished 6-6 after losing its last three regular-season games.

"Those things are being determined by people beyond me," Fickell said postgame, while fighting back his emotions.

More than anything else, Saturday was supposed to be about the Wolverines finally ending seven years of frustration by defeating Ohio State. With their first victory over the Buckeyes since a 35-21 win at Michigan Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003, the Wolverines finished the regular season with a 10-2 record. They might be headed to the Jan. 4 Discover Orange Bowl as a BCS at-large selection.

"We never talked about [the drought]," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "We never talked about the last seven years. It wouldn't be fair to this team or the teams that played in the last seven games."

Hoke, a former assistant coach under Lloyd Carr, was hired in January to replace fired Rich Rodriguez. Hoke was very aware of Michigan's drought against Ohio State and kept a running clock of the days since the Wolverines last defeated the Buckeyes outside his office.

"It goes to zero," Hoke said.

With its regular season over, Ohio State can almost restart its clock, too. After nearly a year of scandal and bad publicity, Ohio State can finally begin to pick up the pieces and start over.

"I told [the players] it's hard how things went, but it will make us all better and we've all learned a lot from it," Fickell said.

It was nearly a year ago that Ohio State first announced that five of its players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and tailback Dan "Boom" Herron, would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor owner. In an unusual decision, the NCAA permitted Pryor and the others to play in the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they helped lead the Buckeyes to a 31-26 victory over Arkansas.

A couple of months later, Ohio State discovered that Tressel knew about the violations for several months but failed to report them to Ohio State officials and also withheld the information from NCAA investigators. Tressel was suspended for two games (the suspension was later extended to five games) and was fined $250,000. On May 30, Tressel resigned as Ohio State's coach, after leading it to six Big Ten titles and its first national championship in 34 seasons.

In June, Pryor entered the NFL's supplemental draft and was selected by the Oakland Raiders.

On Saturday, losing to Michigan for the first time in seven seasons capped a truly forgettable season for the Buckeyes.

"It's a weird feeling," Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey said. "We're not used to [losing to Michigan]. My stomach almost feels queasy."

Posey said reports about Meyer possibly becoming Ohio State's next coach weren't a distraction this week.

"The social media world we live in, it's in our faces," Posey said. "But we stayed focused and had a great week of practice. If anything, I felt like we were more focused."

Fickell said he never talked to his team about his future or Meyer becoming coach.

"Out of respect for the Ohio State-Michigan game, that's all we've focused on," Fickell said. "It was about the game. It's always about the game and that's what we focused on."

As the Wolverines put the finishing touches on their victory, Ohio State fan Jason Brown of Jackson, Ohio, sat in the first row of Michigan Stadium waving a T-shirt that read: "Welcome Home Urban Meyer!"

When the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet again, Meyer might be standing on Ohio State's sideline.

"He's a proven winner," Brown said. "He's a true winner and is a great fit for the Big Ten and a great fit for the Buckeyes."

Hoke said he isn't worried about who Ohio State hires as its next coach.

"You know the good thing about coaching -- we don't do the competing," Hoke said. "It's the kids. It's the guys on the field."

But it wasn't that way Saturday, not for the Buckeyes at least. It was just as much about the guy who wasn't there.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.