Michigan Wolverines: Rich Rodriguez

Dave Brandon called the perception "pretty silly." The Michigan athletic director, speaking Monday with WDIV-TV in Detroit, said he's confused as to why some think he's the one calling the shots with Michigan's football program.

He reiterated that head coach Brady Hoke made the decision to fire offensive coordinator Al Borges following the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and that Hoke identified and hired Doug Nussmeier as Borges' replacement.

"I'm not angered [by it], just confused as to why anybody could draw that conclusion," Brandon said. "I'm not a football coach. I have no experience as a football coach. I've never run a football program. How that conclusion was reached is beyond me."

[+] EnlargeDave Brandon
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan AD Dave Brandon dismisses talk he's overly involved in the football program.
Some reached that conclusion when Brandon spoke with reporters after Nussmeier's introduction while both Hoke and Nussmeier did not. Brandon addressed the state of the program, the standards Michigan football must uphold and denied claims that he's the one pulling the strings on major decisions.

Some reached the conclusion when Brandon somewhat surprisingly gave Hoke a vote of confidence in November, in the form of a 1,059-word post that appeared on Brandon's blog. It wasn't like the short statements we typically see from ADs that basically say, "Coach is safe. Move along."

And yet others reached the conclusion after learning how hands-on Brandon is with the football program. He watches game film on Sundays with the coaching staff, a practice that didn't sit well with former coach Rich Rodriguez. Brandon, who played football at Michigan, certainly isn't the only AD with a keen interest in football, but does his involvement go too far?

Some believe it has. Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp recently likened Brandon to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, always putting himself in the spotlight.

That might be pushing it, but Brandon once again on Monday had to defend his involvement with the football program.

Brandon in some ways is more of a front man than Hoke. He's a better public speaker and more comfortable in front of a microphone than Hoke, who is great to deal with one-on-one but doesn't thrive in group settings.

Brandon is undoubtedly a high-profile athletics director with a unique back story as the former Domino's Pizza CEO. He has been mentioned as a Michigan gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate. He's a big deal, he has made Michigan a boatload of money during his tenure and grown the school's brand despite continued mediocrity in its signature sports program. Hoke leads a famous football program but doesn't have the ego or the glitz seen with some of his coaching peers.

It creates an interesting dynamic around Schembechler Hall. Few athletics directors outshine their football coaches in this day and age. Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez is the only current example in the Big Ten, and that's because he used to coach the Badgers and transformed the program to national prominence.

Brandon made a good point Monday when he said, "I can't hold Brady Hoke accountable for his results if I'm telling him who to put on the staff." Ultimately, Brandon is Hoke's boss, and he must evaluate Hoke's ability to lead Michigan football.

He might be best served doing so from a bird's-eye view.

Big Ten chat wrap: Nov. 7

November, 7, 2013
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My first chat of November is in the books. Did you miss it? Check out the full transcript here.

Some highlights:

DJ from Mlps: When reading bowl projections, one thing that always seems to come up is Minnesota having a bad reputation for traveling fan support. In fairness, Minnesota hasn't played on New Year's Day in over 50 years and I believe that Minnesotans would flood any warm destination to a Bowl Game of more prominence. We had the largest fan support in our run to the NCAA Final Four in 1997 (since taken off the books). Can Minnesota get past this reputation issue? Hoping for a Gator Bowl bid if we can knock off Penn St. this weekend!

Adam Rittenberg: DJ, some good points here. Ultimately, it's Norwood Teague's job to sell Minnesota to the bowl reps. I've had multiple bowl people tell me Minnesota travels worse than any fan base in the Big Ten, but part of that could be apathy about the bowls the Gophers have made. There's certainly some enthusiasm around the program right now, and a New Year's Day bowl would only enhance that. I don't think you can compare a Final Four to, say, a Gator Bowl appearance, but Minnesota will have opportunities to sell why it should go to a good bowl.




Matthew from Winston Salem: If you had to pick one coordinator from the B1G to be head coach of your team, who would you pick and why?

Adam Rittenberg: I'd go with MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and not just because I like him personally and would love to cover his teams. Narduzzi would instill the type of defense that could take a bad or middling program to the next level. Recruits would want to play for him, especially on defense. Narduzzi also has matured a little and should handle the head-coaching spotlight better than he would have a few years ago. I also think Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a future head coach, but Narduzzi is further along in his career.




Mike from Texas: Does Urban win coach of the year? Or is OSU just ineligible for the award?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, I'm going to write this soon, but if Ohio State runs the table again, Urban absolutely should win the award. It shouldn't just go to a first-year coach or one who improves a middling team. We haven't seen a Big Ten team go undefeated in back-to-back years for a very long time. It's absurd that an Ohio State coach can't seem to win the award, but that should end this year if the Buckeyes win out.




Steven from Madison, Wis.: If the coaching hires were reversed for Purdue and Wisconsin, how do you see this season shaping up for each team? (i.e. is Wisconsin doing better because of better players in the system, or is Anderson a better coach?)

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting question, Steven. Gary Andersen certainly deserves credit for Wisconsin's success, and for keeping the team on track after the Arizona State debacle. But let's be honest here. Andersen inherited a great situation in Madison, one you almost never see for a new coach. Wisconsin has 25 seniors, a defensive superstar in Chris Borland, two exceptional running backs and other standouts. Hazell stepped into a much shakier situation at Purdue. Does that absolve him of blame for a team that might be the worst in recent Big Ten history? No. But the situations are very different and the coach can only do so much.




Mike from Detroit: Rich Rod struggled his first year at UM and the excuse was that Lloyd Carr left the cupboard bare. Rich Rod's teams gradually got better when "his" recruits arrived. Brady Hoke went 11-2 with seemingly all of Rich Rod's recruits. Now UM seems to be getting gradually worse on the field as more of Brady Hoke's recruits come in and Rich Rod's graduate or leave. Does that not seem like there may be a coaching issue at Schembechler Hall?

Adam Rittenberg: There could be, Mike, but let's keep in mind that Hoke is still on track to win more games this season than Rodriguez ever did at Michigan. He has opportunities still to beat some of the Big Ten's better teams, which Rodriguez never did. Is his tenure a failure so far? By his own standards, yes. But three years isn't enough time, especially when the recruiting seemingly has been so strong. Like I said before, if we're still sitting here in 2015 and Michigan isn't winning the Big Ten, a change may be in order.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again next week.


Brady Hoke endears himself to Michigan fans by embracing all things maize and blue, but he outlines the standards for the Wolverines program in black and white.

Success: a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

Failure: anything else.

Ricky Bobby would be proud.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan coach Brady Hoke sees championships or failures. There is no in-between, which is why Saturday's game at Michigan State means so much for the Wolverines.
Hoke's clear approach is refreshing in an environment where many coaches avoid specifics on how to judge them -- mindful of whacked-out fan expectations, quick-trigger athletic directors and boosters, and a media environment where everything you say can and will be used against you. Perhaps Hoke feels secure enough in his situation to set such narrow parameters for success.

Or he simply thinks Michigan shouldn't settle for anything but championships. Again, refreshing.

It has been eight seasons since Michigan last won a Big Ten championship. That should never happen.

While Hoke undoubtedly has done some good things in his two-plus seasons as Michigan's coach, his tenure to date, by his own standards, has fallen short. Maybe that's too harsh an assessment, given the fragile program Hoke inherited from Rich Rodriguez. Then again, if Hoke judges himself that way, why shouldn't we?

He's in Year 3, enough time to have Michigan positioned for a championship push, regardless of the issues when he took over. As November dawns, Hoke and the Wolverines embark on a stretch that will determine exactly who they are -- champions or guys who talk about championships at a school that has won more than any in the Big Ten.

"The month of November is when you win championships," Hoke told ESPN.com. "A lot of that has always been because of the meat of your schedule, who you're playing. When you look at our schedule and the divisional games are all over that schedule, it's important."

It begins Saturday when No. 21 Michigan visits No. 22 Michigan State. The Spartans are the only Legends Division team without a Big Ten loss. Michigan's lone defeat came in a cross-division game at Penn State, and a loss to Michigan State would essentially put the Wolverines 2½ games behind the Spartans with four weeks to play.

"If we want to win a championship," Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said, "we have to go through Michigan State."

Could Michigan still achieve its goal with a loss Saturday afternoon?

"You're counting on a lot of things to happen," Hoke said. "It gets out of your hands to a certain degree. Are we a good football team? Yeah. Are we perfect by any ways? No, and we haven't been. We've been inconsistent, but we have won six games and lost one in four overtimes where we had plenty of opportunities.

"We've grown, but obviously [if you lose] you put yourselves behind the eight ball."

Michigan has been an enigma this season, impressively beating Notre Dame in Week 2 but struggling against Football Bowl Subdivision bottom-feeders Akron and Connecticut and losing to an unremarkable Penn State squad. The Wolverines are one of the Big Ten's most talented teams, bolstered by the recruiting success Hoke and his staff have engineered, and they're certainly capable of blossoming into a division champion in the next five weeks. They also could crumble as the competition gets tougher.

The next five weeks not only will provide answers about Team 134 but also about Hoke and his ability to meet his own standards.

Several of Hoke's achievements at Michigan can't be touched. He has ended long losing streaks against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State. He boasts a 19-0 mark at Michigan Stadium and became the first Michigan coach to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons since Fielding Yost (1901-02). He has made significant upgrades in recruiting, as Michigan signed top-10 classes in 2012 and 2013 and likely will do so again in February.

He also blends seamlessly with the Michigan family, unlike his predecessor, and oversees a program that lacks the drama that seemed to surface throughout Rodriguez's tenure.

Hoke has achieved many of the things Rodriguez could not, but that's not enough at this type of program. He has yet to make the Big Ten championship game, even with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State in the other division. Michigan had fortune on its side in Hoke's first season, as it beat the worst Ohio State team in a generation, received a BCS at-large berth ahead of a Michigan State team it lost to and beat a Virginia Tech team in the Sugar Bowl that many believed had no business being in New Orleans. Last year, Michigan lost to all the elite teams it faced and finished a disappointing 8-5.

Hoke's teams are just 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium, including a 28-14 setback two years ago at Michigan State, an emotion-charged contest that featured six personal foul penalties on the Spartans.

"Two years ago up there, we, as a team, flinched too many times," Hoke said. "That bothers you, so I wasn't expecting that from the Michigan teams that I've been around before."

Hoke hopes to see more poise Saturday from his team, including young players like starting guards Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson, a true freshman and a redshirt freshman, respectively. He needs to see better tackling technique from a Wolverines defense that surrendered 47 points and 572 yards in its last game against Indiana.

He needs to see great leadership from players like Lewan, who embraces Hoke's championship-or-bust mentality and passed up millions in the NFL for one more title shot at Michigan.

Lewan recognizes what's on the line for Michigan and ensures anyone who doesn't will by week's end.

"Just staying in their ear, over and over again, letting them know what this game is about," Lewan said.

How close is Michigan to being a championship team?

"Golly," Hoke said, "the best way I would say it is we need some more seasoning, some more experiences."

There's no better experience than the one Michigan will have Saturday at Spartan Stadium. A win gives Michigan control of the division. A loss likely extends Michigan's title drought for another year.

The stakes are spelled out for the Maize and Blue in black and white. Hoke would have it no other way.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
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Brady HokeAP Photo/Carlos OsorioIt's difficult to project what would have happened to Michigan football if Rich Rodriguez had not been hired. Brady Hoke was at Ball State and was not a candidate back in 2007.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season begins this week with the opening of Michigan’s fall camp. In a month, the Wolverines will have their first game and all of the questions that have been asked over the past four months will have the beginnings of some resolution to them.

Some questions about football -- and a quick look into Michigan basketball -- populate this week’s Michigan mailbag, filled with your questions.
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players that if Michigan lost them, the team would be in the most trouble.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It is the position most in question entering the season, the one spot on Michigan’s roster without any sort of answer as to who will be the starter or what the rotation will be.

Yet Michigan’s starting running back will be one of the most important and critical players to the Wolverines success this season. It is the only one of these spots in which we won’t name an actual player, but the position.


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Fresh ideas: Tight end 

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier to do so at one position than another? Over the coming weeks WolverineNation will be breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position by position.

What it takes for a true freshman tight end to play

This is one of the more difficult spots for freshmen to play because of the complexities of both learning how to run routes as well as block -- both solo and in tandem -- all within a few months of arriving on campus.

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Region Series Quick Hits: Southeast 

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Quick Hits is a look at the must-know facts for each region in regards to Michigan and its football recruiting efforts. It will give you an idea of the Wolverines’ history in that region, as well as what one can expect from that region over the next few seasons.

SOUTHEAST


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s football Academic Progress Rate score is going up.

The Wolverines’ premier sport had a multiyear APR of 951 and a single-year score of 981 for the 2011-12 season, both improvements from the previous season. Michigan still has the lowest multiyear APR of any Big Ten school in football, but considering the Wolverines were at 928 two years ago in multiyear APR, this is a big jump up.

The single-year APR is where Michigan made its largest gains. The Wolverines had a score of 897 in 2008-2009, when the school was transitioning from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez had had an exodus of players. Now, in the single-year 2011-12, Michigan’s rate is 981. It actually dropped three points from the 2010-11 single-year score of 984, but still within a good range.

The rise of Michigan’s multiyear scores shouldn’t be a massive surprise as the Wolverines are now stabilizing classes, which mostly stayed with the second coaching transition in three seasons from Rodriguez to Brady Hoke.

Michigan’s football score is the second-lowest among sports at the university, as the men’s soccer program scored 950 in its multiyear APR.

Three Michigan teams had perfect multiyear APR scores: women’s tennis, women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse, which was in the first year of the program in 2011-2012. Michigan’s men’s basketball team scored a 995 on its multiyear APR, the second-highest score among basketball schools.

No Michigan programs are in imminent danger of facing postseason bans due to their APR scores.

Scores:
  • Baseball: Multiyear -- 985; 2011-12 -- 970
  • Men’s basketball: Multiyear -- 995; 2011-12 -- 980
  • Men’s cross country: Multiyear -- 982; 2011-12 -- 964
  • Football: Multiyear -- 951; 2011-12 -- 981
  • Men’s golf: Multiyear -- 992; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Men’s gymnastics: Multiyear -- 996; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Ice hockey: Multiyear -- 981; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Men’s soccer: Multiyear -- 950; 2011-12 -- 976
  • Men’s swimming: Multiyear -- 969; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Men’s tennis: Multiyear -- 991; 2011-12 -- 962
  • Men’s indoor track: Multiyear -- 956; 2011-12 -- 979
  • Men’s outdoor track: Multiyear --968; 2011-12 -- 979
  • Women’s basketball: Multiyear -- 1000; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Women’s cross country: Multiyear -- 986; 2011-12 -- 938
  • Field hockey: Multiyear -- 980; 2011-12 -- 948
  • Women’s golf: Multiyear -- 985; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Women’s gymnastics: Multiyear -- 994; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Rowing: Multiyear -- 983; 2011-12 -- 991
  • Women’s soccer: Multiyear -- 978; 2011-12 -- 971
  • Softball: Multiyear -- 996; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Women’s swimming: Multiyear -- 993; 2011-12 -- 990
  • Women’s tennis: Multiyear -- 1000; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Women’s indoor track: Multiyear -- 992; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Women’s outdoor track: Multiyear -- 982; 2011-12 -- 1000
  • Volleyball: Multiyear -- 990; 2011-12 -- 981
  • Water polo: Multiyear -- 996; 2011-12 -- 1000
Denard Robinson is heading back to Florida.

The former Michigan quarterback was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 135th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the second pick in the fifth round.

Denard Robinson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDenard Robinson was a fifth-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The interesting thing is his projected position in Jacksonville. He played quarterback in college and was looked at as a wide receiver during a lot of pre-draft workouts. The Jaguars' Twitter account says they selected him as a running back from Michigan.

Robinson now continues to make the transition from record-setting spread option quarterback to professional hybrid -- something started when he aggravated the ulnar nerve in his right elbow against Nebraska on Oct. 27, 2012. Robinson sat for two games and returned in a role as a hybrid receiver, running back, quarterback with Devin Gardner as Michigan’s starter.

His healing process has been slow. He struggled to grip a football throughout the remainder of his Michigan career and early on in his professional transition. In his college career, he caught three passes for 31 yards.

Robinson set the NCAA record for career quarterback rushing yards with 4,495 and was the first player in FBS history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in the same season in 2010.

He finished his Michigan career second in rushing yards, behind only Mike Hart, and third in career rushing touchdowns with 42. He is fourth in Michigan history in passing yards with 6,250 and fourth in touchdown passes with 49.

He has more total yards than any Michigan player, with 10,769, and scored 91 total touchdowns, more than any other Wolverine.

Robinson chose Michigan over Florida and UCF in his recruiting process. Robinson and Taylor Lewan are two of the better prospects former Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez signed during his three years at Michigan.

Michigan went without a selection in the first three rounds of the NFL draft for only the fifth time since 1970 -- joining 1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009. The Wolverines went without a pick in the first four rounds for the first time since the 1968 NFL/AFL draft, when Rocky Roesma went to the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth round.

Other stories on Robinson:
'Exit Interview' is a concept started at WolverineNation last year where we chat with Michigan athletes not returning for next season.

Brandon Moore is the last of an era at Michigan. He was recruited by Lloyd Carr as the No. 6 tight end in the Class of 2008, signed with Rich Rodriguez and played for he and Brady Hoke -- although not as much as Moore planned.

Moore had two career catches and spent most of his senior year injured.

Q: You came into Michigan somewhat highly touted and your career had ups and downs. How do you view your career?


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'Exit Interview' is a concept started last year at WolverineNation in which we chat with Michigan players who will not be returning to the Wolverines' football team next season about their careers.

Brandin Hawthorne was one of the small gaggle of players former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez recruited from Pahokee, Fla., and from the beginning, he showed potential.

A special teams stalwart, Hawthorne had 63 tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception in his career. He is now making a run at professional football.


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While Greg Mattison might be recognized as the best recruiter among Michigan assistants, it is clear that running backs coach Fred Jackson deserves some recognition, as well.

Not only has he been on the Michigan coaching staff for 20-plus years -- working with Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke -- but given the recruits he was able to bring in for the 2013 class, fans will enjoy a more streamlined run game.

As dazzling as some of Denard Robinson’s jaunts were, Michigan hasn’t really had an up-the-middle, smashmouth run game in the recent past, but Jackson is convinced that with his three 2013 running back signees, the Wolverines will be able to do just that.

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Looking back over the past decade, Michigan came up with many big-time, last-minute recruiting pulls on or around Signing Day, grabbing kids who looked like they would be staying home or close to it out of Florida and California.

Some didn’t pan out as Michigan would have hoped. Others turned into some of the most recognizable stars the Wolverines have had over the past decade.

As we also did with five guys who surprised and spurned Michigan at the last minute, here is a look at what happened with five guys who ended up choosing Michigan at the last second.


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The Big Ten's historically bad teams

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
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ESPN.com is taking a look at historically bad teams today, and unfortunately for the Big Ten, it hasn't been immune from them.

We're not talking about what Illinois did this season or what Indiana did last season or even what Northwestern did season after season in the late '70s and '80s. From time to time, good programs, even great programs, have a season that makes you go, "Huh?" Nearly every college football blue blood has had one of these seasons in the past 20 years, and we'll look back at two in the Big Ten.

Michigan, 2008

Rich Rodriguez's arrival as coach represented a new era of Michigan football, but the program sunk to historic depths in his first season and never truly recovered, leading to his dismissal after Year 3.

Michigan's streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances ended, and the Wolverines suffered their first losing season since 1967. The team dropped nine games, the most it ever had in a single season, and finished the season with a team-record fifth consecutive loss to archrival Ohio State.

The season had several potential low points, but a Week 6 loss to Toledo, Michigan's first to a Mid-American Conference team in 25 appearances, likely earns the label. Michigan finished 109th nationally in total offense, 108th in passing and 104th in turnover margin. While Rodriguez's offense sputtered with the wrong types of players, the defense wasn't much better. Michigan surrendered 45 points in a home loss to Illinois -- the most it had allowed at the Big House since 1991 -- while Illini quarterback Juice Williams set a Michigan Stadium record with 431 yards of offense. Purdue later racked up 48 points and 522 yards against the Wolverines.

"Hopefully [we will] remember it as a blip on the screen, a one-time happening," Rodriguez said of the season.

It's one Michigan fans would just as soon forget.

Penn State, 2003

The Nittany Lions had lost momentum since the middle of the 1999 season, enduring back-to-back losing campaigns in 2000 and 2001 before rebounding behind star running back Larry Johnson in 2002. But things took a sour turn again in 2003, as Penn State tumbled to a 3-9 record (wins were later vacated as part of NCAA sanctions).

After losing Larry Johnson, star receiver Bryant Johnson and most of the starting offensive line, Penn State struggled to produce, finishing 103rd nationally in total offense -- last in the Big Ten -- and 99th in scoring. Perhaps more surprisingly, Penn State couldn't stop the run on defense, finishing 104th nationally.

Penn State had never lost nine games in a season before 2003 and hadn't won fewer than four games since 1931. Coach Joe Paterno had endured only three other losing seasons in his 38 seasons at the helm.

The Lions had a six-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play, their longest slide with Paterno on staff as either an assistant or a head coach. The season ended with a 41-10 loss at Michigan State. Paterno had to fend off repeated retirement questions and replaced longtime offensive coordinator Fran Ganter following the season.

"A season like this -- you can't forget this," quarterback Michael Robinson said after the Michigan State loss. "I'm exhausted -- physically, mentally and emotionally."

Fortunately for Robinson and Penn State, there would be better days ahead in 2005.

Stakes for U-M, OSU enhance The Game

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
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There may never be another Ohio State-Michigan clash as important as the 2006 version, when the teams entered The Game ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

The circumstances outside of the rivalry itself became less and less important during the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan, as the Wolverines floundered around the .500 mark or below. Last year's game had significance for Michigan, aiming to end The Streak in The Game -- and help its cause for a BCS at-large berth. But Ohio State fell into the Michigan 2008-10 role -- a mediocre team finishing up a mediocre season.

When Ohio State hired Urban Meyer last November, the 2012 version of The Game suddenly became a lot more interesting. Both Ohio State and Michigan were projected to be strong, and the meeting could have bearing on the Rose Bowl race and, just maybe, the national title race.

Weeks later, Ohio State received a postseason ban for 2012. After Michigan started this season 2-2 -- Ohio State wasn't overly impressive in nonleague play, either -- The Game suddenly looked a lot less appetizing, aside from the whole bitter rivals thing.

Nearly two months later, the matchup couldn't be much more delicious.

Ohio State is 11-0, one win away from securing only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. And it has to beat Michigan to get there in what is guaranteed to be Ohio State's final game.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOhio State will be counting on CB Bradley Roby to make more big plays on Saturday against Michigan.
Michigan remains alive for the Legends Division title and a chance to play for a spot in the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines need some help to get there, but they have to win at Ohio Stadium for the first time since 2000 to have any chance. Michigan also needs a signature win to keep alive its hopes for a BCS at-large berth.

And there is the whole ruining perfection thing.

"It makes the game even bigger," Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said. "That team is going to definitely play harder, and they're going to play to ruin our season. What better would it be for them to give us the only loss we've had all year? ...

"We're going to be ready. It's going to be a showdown."

Michigan players had a slightly different view of the "Ohio" game. To them, it can never get bigger.

"It's the biggest rivalry in sports," Wolverines defensive tackle Will Campbell told ESPN.com. "If they were 0-11 and we weren't going for the Big Ten championship, it would still be huge."

Added Michigan center Elliott Mealer: "It's the game, it's a huge rivalry. I don't think there's any way to raise or lower the bar on the standards of this game. It's always important."

Campbell did acknowledge that winning in Columbus would be sweeter than last year's triumph at the Big House. Ohio State also is motivated by the 2011 outcome.

"Last year, we played horrible," Roby said. "We were 6-7, a lot of things were going wrong. We just wanted to come out this year and redeem ourselves. That's exactly what we're doing. We haven't lost a game yet."

Michigan will know by the time it takes the field Saturday whether or not it remains in the running for a Big Ten title. Nebraska can punch its ticket to the championship game by beating Iowa on Friday in Iowa City.

If the Huskers lose, Michigan can represent the Legends Division in Indianapolis. But don't expect the Wolverines to be huddled around a TV on Friday.

"From now until four or five o'clock Saturday, Ohio is the only thing on my mind," Campbell said. "Nothing else really matters."

Ohio State's Meyer had tried to downplay talk of an undefeated season before last Saturday's 21-14 overtime win against Wisconsin. But he gave the green light afterward, saying, "We can talk about it now."

Meyer also talked a bit about Michigan.

"This is all I knew growing up," he told ESPN.com. "Eight of my nine [assistant] coaches are from the state of Ohio. Our players understand this rivalry. It's the greatest rivalry in all of sports. We're honored to be part of it.

"We've got to find a way to go win it."

If they do, the Buckeyes will be 12-0. They'll reestablish their control in the series. And after taking down Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin, they'll leave no doubt about which team rules the Big Ten, even if they won't be playing in Indy or Pasadena.

"If we beat the best teams in the league, we have to be the best," Roby said. "We're going to take this game serious, study even harder, practice even harder and be ready Saturday."

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