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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Michigan is Back
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

UMhuddle2A short time ago, before the 9-1 streak was broken last November, you could hear OSU fans lamenting the state of the Michigan rivalry and longing for the day when the Wolverines would return to challenge the Buckeyes like the good old days...or something. “For the Big Ten Conference to be respectable, Michigan has to be good.”, or words to that effect. Okay, I might have been one of those people.

It’s still true. You just don’t hear Buckeye fans mouthing it a lot anymore. There are a lot of indications that Brady Hoke has the Wolverine program back on its feet. An 11-win season, a top five recruiting class, and a BCS bowl win are just a few of them. It’s debatable of course, but it’s important that they believe it. And if their demeanor...and their swagger...and their smack talk after one consecutive victory over the Buckeyes is any indication, they do believe it.

Hoke clearly “gets” OSU-Michigan in a way Rich Rodriguez never demonstrated. From the start he has needled the program in Columbus, including his insistence on calling his rival to the south “Ohio”. The irritation of Buckeye fans at this slight is especially rich. This from the program with the iconic coach who refused to utter the “M” word at all.

That’s the kind of thing on Hoke’s part that even OSU fans have to admit is in the spirit of the rivalry. We did insist we wanted to preserve The Game, didn’t we?  (Some of Hoke’s recent shots at Ohio State have been less in that spirit, and I think it’s worth drawing the distinction.)

Hoke2Sayin’ They’re Back

To begin with, Michigan hasn’t been gone for long. It was just 2006 when The Game was No. 1 vs No.2. They didn’t recruit very well for Lloyd Carr’s last two years (‘06-’07), and the disastrous Rich Rodriguez hire made a tough situation much worse. The result was two losing seasons in Rodriguez’ first two years, before a slight uptick in 2010 to 7-6 mark.

Jim Tressel’s 9-1 record against the Wolverines makes it appear that Michigan had a down decade rather than a mere three-year slump. Some go so far as to say Tressel was fortunate to preside at Ohio State during a decade marked by Michigan mediocrity. It’s just as easy to make the case that Michigan’s mediocrity during Tressel’s tenure at OSU is overstated. The Wolverines averaged roughly 9-3 from 2001-2007.

The formula for the 2011 turnaround isn’t a state secret. Foremost, they went out and got better coaches. Then they set about to reinstate Michigan’s national brand in recruiting. Hoke finished off a decent 2011 recruiting class after he landed the job, and he showed over the last year, with the No. 4 ranked class in 2012, and a very solid start to 2013, that the Michigan machine can be counted on to recruit consistently well going forward. Hoke has stud QB Shane Morris headlining a 2013 group that has been getting raves from the recruitniks already.

The program’s nightmarish defensive performance of 2008-10 was turned around in one year with the hire of Greg Mattison, and overall, Hoke seems to put a motivated and well-prepared team on the field every Saturday. Defensive recruiting, especially at linebacker, where they have really suffered, appears to be back to UM standards.

Perhaps most importantly, the streak is over. Michigan’s embarrassing seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes had to end, and it doesn’t matter one bit to the UM faithful that it took a debacle of an Ohio State season to bring it about. Whether they are indeed back or not, these Wolverines and their admirers are certainly pleased with themselves, and they have been chirping ever since Thanksgiving weekend.

I’ll spare you the details of tweets and quotes by roster UM players, coaches, and even untested recruits demonstrating their newfound swagger, but believe me, it’s a noticeable change from the humble, groveling, speechless posture we’ve come to love and take for granted. And really, who can blame them? Ohio State has held a near-monopoly on the smack talk since 2004.

The urge to mock OSU after a big Michigan win has been building up in these UM freshmen since 3rd grade. We all wanted to preserve the rivalry...right? What we’re bound to find out is if OSU can take smack as well as talk it.  If rivalry is what we want, then the annoyance of OSU fans by anything emanating from north of the border is a step in the right direction. They have to be delighted that Ohio State is paying attention to them again.

Denard2Sayin’ They Ain’t

Like I said, the whole premise of the piece is debatable. If I may, by way of rebuttal...the top counter-talking points:

- For starters, it took a disaster of an Ohio State season, and then at least two, if not three overthrows by Braxton Miller of wide open Buckeye receivers for potential touchdowns for the Wolves to end the losing streak on their home field.

- Their 2011 schedule avoided the best team in the Leaders Division (Wisconsin) and ended with just one regular season win over a team with more than eight victories (Nebraska).

- I think we can all agree that however mercurial and entertaining Denard Robinson may be, (and don’t you just love the cute way he does that spoon-feeding thing during the game?) he has to be the luckiest college quarterback walking the planet. Have you ever seen so many ill-advised heaves come down with an ugly hat attached to them?

- And can’t we also agree that Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator should have been fired on the spot for allowing them to go 80 yards for a touchdown in the final 30 seconds with no timeouts?

- Denard will be a senior, so after 2012, they’re back to inexperience at the QB position for a while...Morris or no Morris.

- Urban Meyer

- They’ll be considered “back” when they win a Big Ten championship...or make it to the title game.

- While the recruiting was very successful in 2012 and the 2013 class is shaping up nicely, the best of the talent is concentrated on the offensive line and at linebacker. So far, their skill-position recruits don’t have the rest of the conference quaking in their B1G boots.


UM logoThe 2012 slate for the Wolves looks a little more daunting than last year’s model, and it's unrealistic to project anything like a repeat of 11-2 and a BCS berth. They open with Alabama (in Arlington, TX) and have road tests in South Bend, Lincoln and Columbus. Michigan State has won four straight against them, and they have struggled against Iowa.

All snark and qualifiers aside though, on balance, Michigan’s three-year slump can be pronounced over. They were 11-2 after all...and besides, they’re talking a really good game. If you take the long view beyond 2012, there’s little doubt they are a program on the upswing.

Just remember...this is what we said we wanted.


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