Behind Enemy Lines: A Look From That State Up North

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Ohio State football fans have been blessed with a lot of good fortune in recent years, as the Buckeyes have enjoyed tremendous recruiting success, tons of national exposure, an abundance of All-Americans and Heisman hopefuls, and an undisputed national championship. On the heels of last season’s legendary title run, and with all signs pointing toward a successful 2015 campaign, OSU fans can continue to count their blessings. But make no mistake – there is one segment of Buckeye Nation that has been blessed with far less: those of us who have the misfortune of calling The State Up North “home”.

Sure, the state of Michigan has beautiful bodies of water and great tourist attractions, but is there a bigger buzzkill than trying to enjoy Ohio State’s thrilling gauntlet run through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon while the only topic of discussion in local media revolves around some Khaki Crusader? I obviously understand the TV and radio business enough to know the importance of media outlets speaking to their audience – as seemingly 99 percent of Michiganders root for U-M or Michigan State – but that doesn’t make it more bearable.
As the season-opening kickoff in Blacksburg, Virginia draws nearer by the day, and a lucky group of Ohio State fans have the luxury of being immersed in pro-Buckeye talk on their local airwaves, I’d like to provide updates on the chatter going on up north.

Blue is Back!

In the history of the world, have this many chickens ever been counted before they’ve hatched? I didn’t know it was possible for the fan base of a team that has been irrelevant from a championship-contending perspective for a decade to so quickly flip a switch and beat their chests again.

While the constant Jim Harbaugh “will he return, or won’t he” coverage during Ohio State’s title run was gut-wrenchingly annoying, it has only amplified throughout the offseason. Michigan airwaves have covered Harbaugh from a myriad of angles – his heroic roadside rescue of highway commuters; the humane capture and harmless release of a mouse from a Michigan restaurant; the rationalization of his shirtless prancing during a satellite camp in Alabama; the defense of his ultra-awkward phone conversion with former ESPN personality Colin Cowherd. I feel like the list could go on and on. I’m just ready for all the “Most Interesting Man in College Football” talk to subside and for conversation to focus on actual football.

But now – following a 5-7 season, mind you – the hiring of one man has led to conversation about another 10-Year War, Woody vs. Bo 2.0, and the return of the greatest rivalry in college football. While those things all sound neat, and would make the matchup more interesting in the years to come, these expectations aren’t based on anything of substance.

Michigan fans and the media are already including Harbaugh in discussions of the elite college football coaches in the country for the 2015 season, when he hasn’t done anything at Michigan yet. Harbaugh disciples point to the ascension of the Stanford football program during his tenure, often pointing to the 2007 upset over USC as 41-point underdogs as reasoning for why Harbaugh will lead Michigan to many victories over Ohio State. People call into sports radio programs, and when asked my Michigan will have 10+ wins this upcoming season, they’re response is simply, “Harbaugh.” I go to work and hear from Michigan fans about how young the Wolverines were last year, and how with another year of experience and the return of an already solid defense, U-M will defeat the Buckeyes in the Big House.

I get it – Michigan fans are excited about their new coach. I remember how energized and optimistic when Ohio State officially announced the hiring of Urban Meyer in November 2011. Then OSU backed up expectations on the field as, Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record. Michigan fans have a right to be excited about a new coach with the perception and football pedigree of Jim Harbaugh; I just wish they’d let him coach a real game with the Block M on his hat before boldly proclaiming that the Michigan football program is back.

Beware of Sparty

Make no mistake – I am fully confident in Ohio State’s ability to run the table in the regular season and repeat as Big Ten champions, but I would urge Buckeye fans to remain vigilant of the very real threat that is coming out of East Lansing. On paper, Michigan State appears to be sitting in the same seat that Ohio State was sitting in just one year ago, which makes them incredibly dangerous in my eyes.

Think about how closely the story lines parallel one another. MSU entered the 2014 season as the perceived “bad boys” of the Big Ten, following a conference championship and being discussed as the team with the best chance to represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff; OSU entered the season angry and focused, motivated to retake their spot as Big Ten champions. This year, Ohio State enters the season with a lot of hype – and deservedly so – but the Spartans are guaranteed to enter Ohio Stadium with a revenge-minded intensity that the Buckeyes must match and surpass.

Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State has thrived in the underdog role, finding great success while playing with the proverbial chip on their shoulders. It can be argued that the great expectations heaped upon them by the media last season were their downfall – that playing as “favorites” took away from their “us against the world” mantra. That certainly won’t be an issue this year, as all the talk is centered on Ohio State’s first-world depth chart problems, their heavy presence in the preseason Heisman odds, and discussions of a repeat national championship.
A lot has been said about Ohio State’s success in an underdog role under Urban Meyer’s watch – which ultimately improved to a 6-0 mark following wins over Alabama, Oregon, and Wisconsin (who was actually favored due to the forced insertion of inexperienced Cardale Jones into the starting role). But, through no fault of their own, the Ohio State’s success in 2014 and the hype surrounding their returning talent has coincidentally helped Michigan State return to their own comfort zone. How will the Buckeyes perform as they’ve been forced outside of their preferred underdog role big games? Will they be able to push an agenda to prove something to the world when no one actually doubts them?

As the college football season gets closer by the day, there are a lot of things to get excited about regarding the 2015 Buckeyes. Those of us stranded in The State Up North will just have to rely on OSU fan sites and televised Buckeye games to survive the misery of living behind enemy lines.


  1. Joston Da Grava says

    I must give my greatest condolences to your unfortunate situation. If the place I called home had more maize and blue than scarlet and gray… Well I might just jump on a Greyhound and never look back. Great article, by the way.

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