Michigan under Jim Harbaugh is rolling. The Wolverines will take the Ohio Stadium field at 10–1, the nation's No. 3 team. Is a good Michigan football program important to Ohio State and the Rivalry?
It's seems like Buckeye fans are split on the issue, so we set out to settle matters once and for all.
TAKE: IT'S BETTER WHEN MICHIGAN IS SUCCESSFUL AT FOOTBALL
Jason Priestas: There are many things I don't enjoy in life, yet I accept them because they are for a greater good. For instance, I hate shaving. If it were up to me, I'd never shave again. I'm not a huge fan of mowing my lawn, either. I don't love these things, but if they're not done, I'm just the hobo in your neighborhood with a trash lawn and nobody wants that.
The same can be said for Michigan football. Sure it's fun to watch the Wolverines embarrass themselves – and they've done plenty of that over the last decade – and I really don't want that program to have success... but I know it's important to Ohio State and the greatest rivalry in sport.
Let's start with the storylines. How easy is it for Ohio State fans to despise Jim Harbaugh? Compare that to their feelings towards Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, which can best be summed up as, “I really hope that man gets the help he needs,” or worse yet, outright pity. It's cliche, because it's true: every story needs a good villain.
The clash between these two teams is a big deal – with the five-hour GameDay to prove it – precisely because Jim Harbaugh is who he is and his team may be as good as Urban Meyer's on the field.
Then, there's the issue of the rivalry, which is so cherished by fans on both sides. The masses who want Michigan to go 0–12 ever year do realize there was legitimate talk in this century of the Iron Bowl being a better rivalry right? That's ridiculous for reasons we won't get into here, but thanks to the malaise brought on by Rodriguez and Hoke, that regional meth bowl was openly discussed as having become a bigger deal than Ohio State–Michigan. No thank you.
Everyone remembers Army–Navy, right? If Michigan falls and never gets back up, this rivalry, which truly is the greatest in the sport, is Ohio State–Army all of a sudden. And who's going to get jacked to tune into that every November?
Some will say Ohio State doesn't need Michigan to be good to achieve its goals. That line of thinking is wrong. For starters, the only reason Ohio State is being considered for a spot in the College Football Playoff, regardless of whether it wins the Big Ten, is because of the quality win they hope to earn against the Wolverines. It will be the crown on an impressive schedule and will likely put the Bucks over the top in head-to-head comparisons with other deserving teams, including Penn State (if they win out).
That line of thinking is also disingenuous. Detractors will say another team other than Michigan can step up and fill the void as an elite opponent on the schedule. Which would be true if other programs in the league had Michigan's budget, tradition and expectations. Purdue? No chance. Michigan State? Maybe some multi-year runs here and there, but nothing on the level of what a well-oiled Michigan can produce.
The Big Ten is earning SEC-type love right now precisely because Michigan and Ohio State are both elite teams, not because one is elite, Wisconsin is doing Wisconsin things and James Franklin caught lightning in a bottle. This stuff matters in a playoff world.
You'll hear the “When has a bad Michigan ever cost Ohio State?“ argument out of those who want Michigan to be perpetually terrible. Let's look at that from the other side for a second. Would Ohio State own a national championship in 1942, or would it have gone to fellow one-loss team Georgia, who had wins over No. 3 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia Tech, had the Buckeyes not ended the season with a convincing win over No. 4 Michigan? What about 1968? Does Ohio State split the title with 11–0 Penn State that year had they throttled a bad Michigan team instead of waxing No. 4 Michigan, 50-14, in the finale?
Finally, as a fan, how much more gratifying was last season's Ohio State win in the Big House compared to other Buckeye wins against Rodriguez and Hoke during Michigan's lost decade? It's not even close.
But don't take my word for it. Take Woody's: In football, you'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime.
COUNTER-TAKE: MICHIGAN SHOULD BE AWFUL AND REMAIN AWFUL FOREVER
D.J. Byrnes: People say a strong Michigan helps Ohio State, which, okay, sure. But when has a bad Michigan ever hurt Ohio State? It still made the playoffs after trampling a Michigan team that lost at Rutgers. Go back name a win over a weak Michigan team that cost Ohio State a national opportunity. Don’t worry, I’ll wait, even though you won’t find one.
Besides, urban Meyer won’t coach the local team forever. What if OSU sachems misfire in the next hire? Does anybody here remember the 1990s? I remember two things: Nintendo 64, and Michigan dominance.
People talk about “respecting” your rivals. Michigan fans will never respect us. They will forever look down their noses at us, likening us to rabid beasts, despite their crumbling infrastructure and decaying cities with poisoned water.
No, when you cast your enemies into the dirt, you keep them there. That’s why people who remember the 90s cherish this run of success more than anyone who doesn’t. Because those people remember what it’s like to live under your enemies heel and living among a guerrilla army of turncoats who fly 24 Michigan flags off their 1997 Town & Country Chrysler minivan.
People say “Oh, but it wouldn’t be the Rivalry if Michigan was always trash.” Like I give a damn what somebody from Tuscaloosa, Alabama thinks about The Rivalry. I know the stakes, and the stakes will never change until the day I die.
Penn State, Michigan State (2016 notwithstanding), Wisconsin are all respectable. We already live in a world where 22-2 over two seasons might not win Ohio State a Big East title. And I’m supposed to pray for Michigan to be respectable so some ABC and Nike suits can gin a few extra pennies out of a rivalry they care nothing about?
Keep Michigan in the dirt where it belongs. Bust up their recruiting pipelines, take their top in-state talent, and let their stadium crumble in 10 years when a weekly Michigan game only musters 20,000 in paid attendance.
This is my dream for The Rivalry, and that every young Buckeye fan can go unmolested by the terror that comes with losing to Michigan more than once every decade.
The last 15 years for Michigan was way worse than the 1990s, because the Buckeyes won more than a split national title with Nebraska. Look at how wins over Colorado and a beat-up Penn State made them cluck. And people want to deal with that full-time?
I have more important things to worry about than the state of football in Ann Arbor. Hopefully Urban Meyer nukes Jim Harbaugh on Saturday so we can watch the message board equivalent of the Chernobyl meltdownn.
But hey, these “Michigan should be good, actually” people would probably cry about that too because it weakens the program.
So now you know where we stand. What about you?