OSU's Urban Meyer, UM's Brady Hoke both Ohio born, now roam opposing sidelines in The Game


COLUMBUS — For the bet­ter part of the last quar­ter-cen­tury, the soul of col­lege foot­ball’s great­est ri­valry was of­ten miss­ing.

The Ohio State-Mich­i­gan game did not pair coaches who grew up with this rite of fall, and it swung from one lop­sided ex­treme to the other. Ten­nes­see na­tive John Cooper in­fa­mously called it just an­other game, then went 2-10-1 in that run-of-the-mill sea­son fi­nale, while Jim Tres­sel got it and was 9-1 against Mich­i­gan. Don’t even men­tion the Rich Ro­dri­guez era.

But times are chang­ing.

When fourth-ranked Ohio State places its per­fect sea­son on the line against No. 20 Mich­i­gan to­day at Ohio Sta­dium, there is a sense the ri­valry is em­bark­ing on its next great era.

No. 20 Michigan at No. 4 Ohio State

Records: UM is 8-3, 6-1 in Big Ten, OSU is 11-0, 7-0.

Time: Noon


Radio: 106.5, 100.7

Series: UM leads 58-44-6

Favorite: OSU by 4

Notes: In the first battle between Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Michigan’s Brady Hoke, the Buckeyes are chasing their sixth perfect season in school history — and just the second since 1973. … Michigan will play the familiar role of spoiler. The Wolverines handed OSU its first loss in 1969, 1973, 1993, 1995, and 1996. (Ohio State tarnished unbeaten UM seasons in 1970, 1972, 1975, and 2006.) … The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge a 40-34 loss last year in Ann Arbor — their first defeat against UM since 2003. … A week after Wisconsin stalled quarterback Braxton Miller, Meyer said to expect a more open offense and more carries for Carlos Hyde. The junior running back is second in the Big Ten with 16 touchdowns — 14 of those coming in the past six games. … Michigan has the nation's top pass defense (152.2 yards a game), and ranks 12th in total defense (303.5 yards a game) and 17th in scoring defense (18.1 points a game). … OSU has not lost Michigan at home since 2000 — a 38-26 Wolverines win where quarterback Drew Henson threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. … In three games at quarterback, UM's Devin Gardner has averaged 278 passing yards a game — with a 314-yard effort last Saturday in a 42-17 win against Iowa. Gardner has completed 46 of 70 passes for 834 yards, and has 28 carries for 105 yards and six touchdowns.

Ohio State’s Ur­ban Meyer and sec­ond-year Mich­i­gan coach Brady Hoke have both en­joyed big early suc­cess — on Satur­days and on sign­ing day — and, just as im­por­tant for the health of The Game, are deeply in­vested in beat­ing the other guy.

The coaches were born and bred in Ohio, Meyer in Ash­t­ab­ula as the son of a father who wor­shipped Woody Hayes, and Hoke out­side Day­ton as the con­trar­ian who pulled for Mich­i­gan be­cause ev­ery­one else liked Ohio State. They are sons of The Ten-Year War — the stretch be­tween Ohio na­tives Woody and Bo that for­ever el­e­vated the ri­valry — and just maybe the pro­tag­o­nists in an­other one.

The fire is back, with Hoke grat­ing Ohio­ans by re­fus­ing to call Ohio State by its full name and Meyer never shy about his dis­taste for “that school up north.” How per­va­sive is that sen­ti­ment? The let­ter "M" is cov­ered on build­ings and street signs across Ohio State’s cam­pus this week.

“Let’s kick the [ex­ple­tive] out of Mich­i­gan,” Meyer said Fri­day at for­mer coach Earle Bruce’s “Beat Mich­i­gan Tail­gate" in Co­lum­bus.

Of his ad­ver­sary hail­ing from this state, he said, “I think that's when you start us­ing the term like war, with all due re­spect. This is not war, it's a game, but it's a very in­tense game when this is home.

“[Hoke] was born in the state of Ohio, which I still don't get," Meyer added. "That’s an­other story. But it adds to the in­ten­sity, rather ob­vi­ously. I think when you're talk­ing about it as close to home, it adds to the fuel, fuel to the fire.”

As if to­day needed any more fuel. For Ohio State, the first con­test be­tween Meyer and Hoke of­fers the leg­acy-de­fin­ing chance of a per­fect fi­nale to a year that be­gan any­thing but. Despite play­ing un­der the shroud of a post­sea­son ban — and com­ing off a 6-7 sea­son — the Buck­eyes can claim the pro­gram’s sixth un­beaten or un­tied sea­son.

Meyer knows the rar­ity of per­fec­tion, achiev­ing it once in his first 10 sea­sons as coach — and not in the two sea­sons his Flor­ida Ga­tors won a na­tional ti­tle. The Buck­eyes, who re­tain an out­side shot an As­so­ci­ated Press na­tional ti­tle, and Notre Dame re­main the only two un­beaten teams af­ter losses by Kan­sas State and Ore­gon.

“It's a credit to a bunch of play­ers and as­sis­tant coaches that keep that fo­cus [de­spite the dis­trac­tions]," Meyer said. "Once you leave the fa­cil­ity, who knows what's be­ing said? Who knows when you start talk­ing about the end of the sea­son, agents and who's com­ing out, who's do­ing this, what about this … am I go­ing to trans­fer? All that non­sense goes to­ward end of the year.”

For­tu­nately for Meyer, Mich­i­gan week re­quires lit­tle mo­ti­va­tion.

“This is the Su­per Bowl,” se­nior line­backer Eti­enne Sabino said. “This is the bowl game. This is the na­tional cham­pi­on­ship. This is ev­ery­thing for us. This is The Game.”

Hoke and Mich­i­gan, mean­while, await ea­gerly. The Wol­v­er­ines won the Sugar Bowl last sea­son, but the chance to spoil the Buck­eyes’ pur­suit of per­fec­tion might be Hoke’s most sat­is­fy­ing vic­tory yet. Mich­i­gan has tar­nished five un­beaten OSU sea­sons on the fi­nal week­end of the reg­u­lar sea­son, most re­cently in 1996.

The Game is here, back and healthy again.

"In years past, I don't want to say that it lost any­thing, but this year it'll def­i­nitely be much more in­tense," se­nior de­fen­sive back Zach Domi­cone said. "The ri­valry will def­i­nitely pick up in in­ten­sity."

NO COMMENT: As the stakes of OSU’s one-year bowl ban con­tinue to rise, ath­letic di­rec­tor Gene Smith again this week re­fused to sec­ond-guess the school’s much-de­bated de­ci­sion not to vol­un­tar­ily de­cline a bowl in­vi­ta­tion last year.

"I could sit here and give you a mil­lion other what-ifs had we taken that, but I’m not go­ing there," Smith said. "I’m wor­ried about mak­ing sure that we po­si­tion our foot­ball staff, our stu­dent-ath­letes, and do ev­ery­thing we can to have the op­por­tu­nity to beat that team up north. That’s my mis­sion right now. I apol­o­gize if that sounds in­sen­si­tive, but that is the re­al­ity of what we have to do."

Con­tact David Briggs at: dbriggs@the­blade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twit­ter @DBriggsBlade.