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OSU/scUM Preview and JT


Capo Regime
Staff member
Pretty good read...

Nov 17

Pigskin Preview ... Michigan vs. Ohio State

By Matthew Zemek | Michigan | Ohio State

When The Big Game is renewed this Saturday, a long and interesting shadow will fall over Ohio Stadium.

That shadow will be cast by the words of a man who took the microphone at halftime of an Ohio State basketball game in the winter of 2001, having been newly selected as the replacement for John Cooper as the Buckeyes’ head football coach.

When Jim Tressel addressed his fan base that night, he immediately referenced the game the Bucks had been unable to win in Cooper’s tenure in Columbus, and which—for that very reason—put Tressel in the spot once occupied by Woody Hayes. But the brand-new Ohio State coach didn’t merely talk about the Michigan game; he talked about the game in a context of restoring honor, pride and dignity to the Buckeye football family:

“You'll be proud of our young men in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan," said Jim Tressel to the Buckeye Nation.

The man who wears the crisp white shirts, the straight-arrow ties, and solid red sweater vests on Saturdays—the golly-gee Ward Cleaver of college football—made nothing less than an old-fashioned appeal to the same kinds of moral values that made Ohio the center of the political world back on November 2. Jim Tressel intended to restore not just winning, but honor, to Ohio State Football when he strode into Columbus. Everything he said and did in public after that night on the basketball court was aimed and designed toward buffering and buttressing that identity.

On the night of Friday, Jan. 3, 2003, it seemed that Tressel had fully and forcefully accomplished everything he intended to do in Columbus. His legendary 2002 squad toppled a mighty Miami team that hadn’t lost in nearly three seasons. Tressel’s championship team represented everything that was right about collegiate athletics, a walking, living, breathing testament to the fact that good football values and good human values can coexist. Everything Tressel taught his players about football transcended the gridiron and spoke to the Buckeyes’ character as individuals. A team so lacking in raw *** appeal, but blessed with resilience, courage and unselfishness, showed how good citizens can also be good football players. If you wanted a portrait of how winning play and solid character can exist on the same team, the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes—coached by a gifted man who seemed poised to dominate the Big Ten for a long time—represented a perfect example. Jim Tressel was on top of the world.

But as you fast forward nearly two full years later, and as Michigan comes to the Horseshoe with the Rose Bowl in its sights while the Buckeyes flounder at 6-4, winning and honor are both in short supply in Columbus. Yes, the allegations of Maurice Clarett—the fly in the ointment during Tressel’s coaching career—have yet to be proven true. Yes, Tressel and Ohio State AD Andy Geiger have defended the integrity of the football program. Yes, the few corroborations of Clarett’s story have not come from the likes of Craig Krenzel or Mike Nugent, the players whose confirmations would carry extra weight in this turmoil-filled time.

But even without anything being proved, the black cloud of perception that has gathered over Jim Tressel’s reality is enormous. The weight under which Tressel and his beleaguered team now work was underscored by the listlessness of the Buckeyes’ first half performance at Purdue last weekend. A three-point first half against the Boilermakers easily revealed a distracted team totally absorbed in the off-field furor that greeted Clarett’s bombshell declarations. It’s a sad commentary that mere allegations can create such a firestorm without ever being proved true, but that’s 21st Century America, and the Buckeye program is immersed in a controversy that isn’t about to go away. It is against this backdrop that Ohio State will try to salvage its season against Michigan, the team Tressel zeroed in on when he took the Buckeye job.

As a result of the Clarett controversy, an undeniable air of uncertainty hangs over this game in its relationship to Tressel and the entire Ohio State program. If Clarett’s allegations prove to be the least bit rooted in truth, heads will roll throughout The Ohio State University athletic department, with King Football being reshaped to a particularly substantial extent. Just three years after making a splash in Ann Arbor in his first edition of The Big Game, Tressel could find this “Big Game” to be his very last. That’s an absolutely mind-blowing reality, but it exists as a very real possibility. One can’t begin to imagine just how intense the environment will be in the Horseshoe at kickoff time on Saturday.

Emotions will be raw, strained, and through the roof on the Ohio State sideline, solely because of what the Buckeyes want to do for themselves, Coach Tressel, and a school that’s been drowning in bad publicity. Beating Michigan, as incredible as it may seem, isn’t even the most immediate motivating factor for OSU in this contest. It’s really about their own reputation more than denying Michigan a Rose Bowl berth, something which—in any other year—would be the main focus and top storyline of a Big Game such as this one.

In 2004, the prospect of destroying Michigan’s dreams is, remarkably, not the fuel behind Ohio State’s fire. This year, the Buckeyes are intent not on destroying what someone else has, but on rebuilding what they themselves lack at the present moment: a noble identity built around winning. The extent to which the Buckeyes handle Saturday’s emotional cauldron will dictate to Michigan quarterback Chad Henne’s performance, and will basically tell the tale in a Big Game with a mental dynamic that Bo and Woody never knew.

Michigan and Ohio State. What started in 2001 on a basketball court comes full circle on a football field in 2004, with Jim Tressel facing the fight of his football life.