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It’s too bad it has to be like this.

Barring a near miracle, Michigan will lose to Ohio State on Saturday, and the outcome will likely be lopsided. I say it is too bad because, as much as I love the Buckeyes, there was nothing better than this rivalry when both teams were national contenders.

In the days of Tim Biakabutuka, Charles Woodson, and even Chad Henne, the Michigan Wolverines were consistently the toughest test of the season for the Buckeyes. Some of the battles between these teams were epic, some were upsets, and some were heart-breakers (for both sides). But games like that were why fans have so much passion for the rivalry. It was a bitter war between bordering states, fought on fields surrounded by more than one hundred thousand screaming spectators. Of course, it is nice to see Ohio State emerge victorious year after year, but the recent incompetence of Michigan football has detracted considerably from the excitement and controversy surrounding the rivalry.

Just a few years ago, I performed a persuasive speech for a class where I argued that the Michigan / Ohio State rivalry was the best in all of American sports, and I truly believed that. I would not be able to honestly give that speech today.

One cannot place the blame for this on Jim Tressel and the Scarlet and Grey. He has done what he was hired to do: win Big Ten championships and beat Michigan. The players have become confident that this game, as well as the gold pants that come with a win, belong to them. It is the turmoil surrounding the Michigan program, coupled with apparent recruiting problems, which have caused such a lull in the annual contest. Lloyd Carr may have lost a few of his final games against Ohio State, but at least those were close and competitive. The Rodriguez-led squad did not present much of a challenge at all last year, and Saturday’s match-up does not promise to deliver much suspense.

I understand that it is tough to inherit a team and immediately succeed, but Tressel beat the Wolverines in his first season. The overhaul of offensive strategy and personnel has slowed the progress of the Maize and Blue under their new leader, but that cannot be an excuse for a program like Michigan. This is a proud program that, oh by the way, is the winningest in college football history. You cannot lose to teams like Toledo and Purdue and chalk them up to learning a new system; not at Michigan. The way they have played in recent years is simply unacceptable.

As much as I have rooted against the Wolverines, I long for the day when Ohio State and Michigan meet once again in late November in a game that has Big Ten and possibly National Championship implications. Something must be done to preserve the rivalry, even if it means rooting for the Team up North to win a few games earlier in their season.

Knocking Michigan out of the national title game or a BCS bowl would be much more rewarding than knocking them out of a bowl game, period. So, for the sake of rivalry, say a little prayer that their freshmen quarterbacks and much-maligned defense will show up to play Saturday…at least for the first half.