The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one of the most storied in college football. It is also one of the most one-sided.
Everything is going right for Ohio State right now. The Buckeyes have won four straight conference titles and made two straight College Football Playoff appearances. Since Michigan’s last National Title, Ohio State has won two.
Meanwhile, Michigan has never even appeared in Big Ten Championship Game, winning its last conference crown in 2004. So far, the Wolverines haven’t even been close to a College Football Playoff berth.
While Michigan is one of the most historically successful programs in the nation, its recent history is eroding its legacy. They still lead the Big Ten in conference titles, the nation in wins, and the Buckeyes in head-to-head victories.
However, Ohio State is quickly catching up in all three categories, and could pass Michigan in each by the end of the decade.
Is it time for Michigan to take the rivalry more seriously?
Is Michigan Starting To Take Ohio State Rivalry Seriously?
Ohio State’s Perspective on the Rivalry
For Ohio State, this rivalry is the most important game of the year. The Buckeyes’ determination in this rivalry goes back to 1934, when Francis Schmidt launched a four-game winning streak. That win streak would be the longest for Ohio State, with Woody Hayes tying it from 1960-1964. No one would pass four until Jim Tressel did from 2004-2010.
Schmidt inadvertently started the Gold Pants tradition, where each Buckeye receives a pin resembling a pair of gold pants every time they defeat Michigan. According to legend, the team bus once ran out of gas because Hayes refused to buy gas in the state of Michigan.
When Ryan Day became the head coach of Ohio State, he called out Michigan in his introductory press conference.
“It didn’t take long for me to figure out what the expectations were of Ohio State football. Number one, win the rivalry game,” Day said. “And number two, win every game after that.”
Day has only coached against Michigan one time, but it was a 56-27 victory for the Buckeyes. He never got a chance to extend his streak after the 2020 game was cancelled.
Has Michigan Been Taking it Seriously?
To Michigan fans, it’s a serious allegation that Michigan doesn’t take the game as seriously.
But one of the most dynamic players in the history of this rivalry, Charles Woodson, thinks that is the reason for the disparity. After Ohio State ended Michigan’s “revenge tour” in 2018, Woodson questioned Michigan’s emphasis on this game.
“To be quite honest I really feel like over the years, in recent years, there hasn’t been the emphasis that I’m used to being put on that game,” he said.
“Every game has been out on the same level of that game and that’s not the way we were brought up, that’s not the way we were raised around here. And we had no shame in saying it.”
“It feels like every time I’m watching our teams in the recent years, it’s, ‘Aw, you know, it’s another game,’” Woodson said. “Nah, it’s not, and it should never be that way to any of the players who come in here.”
Lloyd Carr retired as Michigan’s head coach in 2007, after earning a record of 6-7 against Ohio State. Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, the next two head coaches, went a combined 1-6 against Ohio State. The only win came in 2011, with Luke Fickell as the interim coach at Ohio State. There have been three head coaches that have worn the headset since Carr retired, yet Carr remains the last Michigan head coach to defeat a full-time Ohio State head coach.
“Some people understand it, some people don’t,” Woodson said. “[Rodriguez] never understood it. And even then [with Hoke], I still don’t think there was enough emphasis on it.”
Rodriguez and Hoke didn’t take the Ohio State rivalry seriously, and neither lasted more than four years at Michigan.
“With us, we talked about it all the time,” he said. “We always had the saying that we could go 0-10, but if we won that game, it was a good season…When’s the last time you guys have heard that?”
Jim Harbaugh Is Starting To Emphasize The Rivalry
Jim Harbaugh succeeded Hoke as head coach, but is 0-6 in the rivalry.
So when Harbaugh received a contract extension that gave him a 50 percent pay cut, was that a coincidence?
Rivalry or not, Ohio State stands in the way of other accomplishments for Harbaugh and for Michigan. Given the fact that these are the two premiere programs in the Big Ten, the rivalry game should be a de facto East Division Championship Game. Without beating Ohio State, there is no College Football Playoff berth in a four-team format. Even in a 12-team system, an appearance in the tournament with a loss to Ohio State means getting a double-digit seed.
But playoff hopes are further from Michigan than they have ever been. Michigan just came off of a 2-4 season, and are one of the leading suppliers of the transfer portal.
So Harbaugh has no choice but to start taking the Ohio State rivalry seriously.
His first step was putting up a sign in the weight room that reads, “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?”
He also banned the color red from Michigan’s facilities.
“You can’t even drink red gatorade,” he reportedly said.
The second implement only lasted one day, however, as quarterback recruit Nate Johnson was captured on video throwing on Michigan’s field wearing bright red shoes.
We’ll find out in November how much more seriously Michigan is taking this rivalry.