- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The latest rival needed no introduction.
Urban Meyer didn’t need a history lesson when he arrived at his fourth coaching stop. He grew up around The Ten Year War.
The importance of The Game above all else wasn’t news to somebody who drove around campus as a graduate assistant at Ohio State taking notice of the massive signs hanging from dorm-room windows artfully expressing distaste for its hated neighbor to the north.
And with a staff almost entirely composed of fellow Ohio natives, Meyer hasn’t had to take some of the same steps that he might have elsewhere to indoctrinate his assistants in the traditions of arguably the most storied feud in all of sports.
The bad blood in the latest feud in Meyer’s coaching career might have started boiling a bit easier than it did at Utah or Florida. But once he’s gotten up to speed, familiarity quickly breeding the contempt needed to hunt the biggest target at whatever program he was leading, Meyer has treated them all the same no matter where he’s been.
BYU and Florida State have had their turns. Now Michigan is locked in the laser sights that Meyer saves for a rival, which traditionally hasn't been a comfortable place to be.
“Do we make a big deal out of this game? Absolutely,” Meyer said. “Do we make a huge deal over the top about rivalry games? Yes, we do.
“That's the way I was brought up. We kind of go over the top here, and we always have.”
That has brought results that ensure bragging rights and keep his fan base happy, and there have been few seasons where Meyer’s intense focus on a rival has left him disappointed.
He dropped a game at Toledo during his last year with Bowling Green. Florida State got the best of him during his final campaign at Florida, and he also came up short once against Georgia in another series of importance for the Gators.
But even throwing in secondary rivals like Utah State with the Utes or Tennessee for the Gators, those are the only losses in Meyer’s career against teams that help label a season a success or failure, collectively giving him a 21-3 mark in matchups where the records are proverbially supposed to be thrown out.
“You can tell he’s a little bit different because this is a rivalry week,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “You can’t act the same as you act every week. This is the biggest game we’re going to play all year and the biggest game we’ll probably play in the next few years because they’re always going to try to spoil our season.
“You can just tell when you walk into the hallways, all you hear is ‘It’s Time for War.’ You can just tell through practice, the players are way more intense when we go through drills and everything. And you can just see the look in his eyes, this rage that he wants to win so bad in this game.”
Meyer has already done it once, improving that vaunted rivalry record by capping a perfect season with a 26-21 victory over the Wolverines a year ago. And considering all the Buckeyes have to play for this season -- they sit third in the BCS standings and have an appearance in the Big Ten title game to look forward to next week -- it might be somewhat understandable if the passion wasn’t running as high for Saturday’s trip to the Big House as it was at this time a year ago.
But Meyer has stressed the importance of beating “That Team Up North” since taking over the Buckeyes, refusing to acknowledge any other program as even a potential rival. Any ‘M’ on a sign around the practice facility was once again crossed out with scarlet tape over the weekend. Even the season schedule hanging in the team meeting room had been redecorated on Monday, with white paper covering up every other opponent -- along with the spots where the conference title game, Rose Bowl and BCS National Championship Game have been visible all year long.
For Meyer, that makes this week quite literally a one-game season.
“When I went out to Utah, I had to be introduced to that,” Meyer said. “But I dove into it, made our staff learn everything about it, made our staff take a test to figure out what the rivalry meant, because I don't want coaches to be phony. I don't want somebody from Ohio stepping into Salt Lake City and making them act like [BYU] is a big deal, but deep down you don't believe it is. Players see right through that. ... That’s the good thing about hiring a guy that's lived the rivalry.
“I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age.”
Those feelings came later in life for the Cougars and Seminoles than they did for the Wolverines. Throughout his career so far, though, Meyer has eventually done the same thing to all of them.
5dDan Murphy and Austin Ward