The Rivals, Part XVI: Auld Lang Syne

This afternoon, college football returns for its annual post-season extravaganza of bowl games, including the second edition of the College Football Playoff. Neither Ohio State nor Michigan will have a shot at the title this year, but both teams are favored to win in rematches of games from nearly a decade ago.

A lot has changed in Ann Arbor since their Capital One Bowl win over Florida, a team that had won the national title the previous year and would win it again the next. It was a bittersweet cap on longtime coach Lloyd Carr’s Michigan career, as the pre-season #5 Wolverines had their high hopes immediately crushed in a shocking loss to then-FCS Appalachian State. As much as that game stung, the seven years that followed were much more damaging.

Things are also quite a bit different in Columbus since the Buckeyes speedboated the Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl to wrap up the 2005 season. Unlike Michigan, Ohio State hasn’t suffered much on the field in that time, but it certainly has not been smooth sailing.

Michigan replaced Carr with spread guru Rich Rodriguez, who was coming off of three consecutive 10+ win season at West Virginia. Those three great seasons came after four rocky ones, however, including a three-win campaign in year one. Rodriguez would repeat the 3-win debacle at Michigan, and he followed that up with just 12 more victories in two years. While there was some improvement, the Wolverines weren’t willing to wait the way West Virginia was and Rodriguez was canned after year three, leading Michigan to just one bowl game, which they lost 52-14.

Following the win over Notre Dame, Ohio State proceeded to lose two consecutive national title games and a Fiesta Bowl. In 2009, the Buckeyes upset the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl and then beat the SEC’s Arkansas in a Sugar Bowl to finish off a successful 2010 season that would later be vacated for reasons that don’t need to be rehashed here. Coach Tressel was out, and interim coach Luke Fickell did as good a job as could be expected under the circumstances, getting the Buckeyes to the Gator Bowl, which they would lose to Florida.

After the failed Rodriguez experiment, Michigan returned to the “Michigan Man” well and hired former Carr assistant Brady Hoke, whose mediocre overall records at Ball State and San Diego State did not inspire much confidence. Still, Hoke delivered a surprising 11-2 first season, beating that Fickell-coached Ohio State team and winning the Sugar Bowl. The future was suddenly bright again for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, Hoke’s teams would regress each year, until he was finally let go after a 5-7 season in 2014.

Urban Meyer’s 2014 went considerably better. Despite leading a postseason-ineligible Ohio State to a 12-0 season in his first year, Meyer was feeling some heat after a second undefeated regular season fell apart with back-to-back losses in the Big Ten Championship game and the Orange Bowl. A dismal early-season performance against Virginia Tech had fans on edge. But that loss sparked something in the team, who steamrolled their way through the rest of the season and the first-ever playoff to stun the nation and steal the title.

With Hoke—and, more importantly, terrible AD Dave Brandon—gone, Michigan was finally able to lure long-time coaching target Jim Harbaugh back home, and he did not disappoint. Despite an ugly loss to Ohio State at the end of the season, Wolverine fans can hardly complain about the ride Harbaugh gave them this year. They now face Florida in the Citrus Bowl, with the Gators coming off of two straight losses. Michigan is 2-0 all-time against Florida.

Ohio State is 3-2 all-time against Notre Dame, but the Irish’s last win was in 1936. In case you aren’t sure how long ago that was, here are some things invented since: seat belts for cars, the transistor radio, microwave ovens, and photocopying. Four months before the game, “Gone With the Wind” came out. Not the movie, the book.

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