Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. But I'm going to say it anyway, folks, because I actually believe it.
Michigan can beat Ohio State this week.
I'm not saying I expect Michigan to win. I'm not saying that I'm going to pick Michigan to win (though you'll have to check in on Friday to see if I do). I'm just saying that Michigan is capable of winning.
In fact, I think they're very capable of winning. And I'll give you five reasons why.
Ohio State has already played its two biggest games of the year. This one is an afterthought. All due respect to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, which is clearly among the greatest rivalries in sports history, but the Wolverines' fall from grace in the last two seasons has really taken some of the drama out of this series. Sure, this one means everything to Michigan (more on this in just a bit), but what does it actually mean to Ohio State? What can it possibly mean to Ohio State? Two weeks back, the Buckeyes knocked off Penn State (their new most-hated rival) to seize control of the Big Ten race. Then, last week, they held off Iowa to lock up the Big Ten Championship. Did you see that celebration last week in Columbus, folks? They stormed the field. They broke out the roses. They were thinking about Pasadena. They were not thinking about Michigan.
Rich Rodriguez is coaching to save his job. Though I do find it unlikely that Michigan would fire Rodriguez after just two seasons, there's no question the guy could use a win. You know, just to be safe. Michigan has not been much better in Year 2 of RichRod's tenure than they were in Year 1, and so you have to figure that even the Rodriguez supporters (those that remain, at least) are beginning to question whether this guy is the right fit for Big Blue. The ongoing drama with that NCAA investigation certainly doesn't help matters, either. Rodriguez might not need a win to earn a third year in Ann Arbor, but he certainly needs his team to competitive. He needs them to play with some passion. Some excitement. Some sense of urgency. Which is why I expect Rodriguez to literally empty the playbook. Double reverses. Fumblerooskis. Fake punts. Fake field goals. Onside kicks. Hey, there was a time, folks, when Rodriguez was known as one of the most innovative coaches in the game. He's got some great 'ball plays somewhere. I expect he'll dig them up this week. And use them.
This game means absolutely everything to Michigan--especially the Michigan seniors. Suffice to say, these Wolverine seniors have been through a lot. The great triumphs and, ultimately, the bitter end of 2006. The trials and tribulations of 2007 (Appy State, anyone?). The messy transition from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez. The utter disaster of 2008. The ups and downs of 2009. These kids saw many of their teammates pack up and leave, and yet they remain. They remain because they're true believers. They're Michigan blue, through and through. And trust me, they know there is just one way--one way--to erase all of the horrible memories of the past four years. Beat Ohio State.
Devin Barclay is still a backup kicker and Terrelle Pryor is still a work in progress. Kudos to Barclay, who has performed admirably the past two weeks while filling in for injured Buckeye starter Aaron Pettrey. I mean, he nailed the game-winner last week. Impressive. But has he really been tested? Really? I'm not so sure. As for Pryor, well, let's give credit where credit is due: He's done what he's needed to do to win the two biggest games of the season, not to mention the Big Ten title. But let's not kid ourselves. He's still prone to mistakes. Is it really all that crazy to think another Purdue-like performance is possible?
This week's Ohio State-Michigan game will mark the 40th anniversary of the very Ohio State-Michigan game that put the Ohio State-Michigan game back on the map. When the 8-0 Ohio State Buckeyes traveled up north to take on the 7-2 Michigan Wolverines on Nov. 22, 1969, there wasn't a soul outside of Ann Arbor who gave Michigan a chance of even staying within two touchdowns of the Buckeyes. I mean, that Ohio State team hadn't trailed all year. They had Rex Kern at quarterback. Jim Otis at running back. Jack Tatum at safety. They were, in the opinion of many, the finest Ohio State team ever assembled. And so when they took the field at Michigan Stadium that sunny Saturday, the Buckeyes fully expected to crush those lowly Wolverines--a team they had embarrassed the previous year, 50-14. But that's not what happened. Not at all. Instead, a new Michigan coach who was viewed as an outsider (sound familiar?) somehow convinced his Wolverines that they could play with those Buckeyes. He reminded them of that 50-14 embarrassment the year before in Columbus (note: Ohio State beat Michigan 42-7 last year at Ohio Stadium). He came with up the most perfect game plan he'd ever create. And when all was said and done, Bo Schembechler--a guy who did not exactly enjoy the easiest transition into his role at Michigan's head coach (sound familiar?)--walked off the field with a 24-12 win. It was one of the biggest victories in the history of Michigan football--and the defining moment of Schembechler's career. Just like that, when everyone least expected it, a rivalry was reborn.
Photo: Tate Forcier and Michigan have a chance--a legitimate chance--of upsetting Ohio State this week. (Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)