By Brian Chapman
It’s no secret, but some of you don’t know me yet so let me make this perfectly clear — For the last four years I have lived in Ohio. As that fact sinks in, let me add that I never received an Ohio driver’s license, never voted in an Ohio election, never considered myself an Ohioan in anyway and I most certainly never became a Ohio sports fan. I’m a Michiganian who just happened to live and worked there. That’s it.
While I was down there I did learn two important lessons from Ohio State fans about the state of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. Lesson number one: Ohio State fans hate Michigan more than Michigan fans hate Ohio State.
And it’s not close.
I know Michigan fans. I lived with them all of my life and I grew up a huge maize and blue boy. I know Michigan fans don’t like Ohio State. As a matter of fact, they hate Ohio State. When it comes to football the vast majority would rather beat Ohio State than Michigan State, despite what any Spartan fan will tell you. But their hatred for the Buckeyes pales in comparison to the Ohio State fan base’s hatred for Michigan.
In Ohio, I felt a hatred of Michigan bubbling from the waters 365 days a year. As long as Ohio State is not playing at the same time, many Buckeye fans will watch every second of every Michigan football game (even the non-conference cupcakes) to keep an eye on the enemy throughout the season. By the time The Game arrives in November they know the Wolverines inside and out and they know every reason there is to hate them. Michigan fans know the reverse is not true. Michigan fans start ramping up their hatred for Ohio State once the college football season starts. As the season goes along and The Game closes in, their hatred grows, but they will not bother to watch a mid-October game between the Buckeyes and the Hoosiers to keep an eye on the enemy. They may not even care to see the highlights on SportsCenter. Then a week or so after The Game, the hatred begins to fade until the start of the next college football season.
I believe that part of the reason for a difference in hatred levels is that Buckeye fans don’t have another archrival to which they can spread some of their hate. Their second biggest rival is Penn State, but as much as I’d like my alma mater to form a big rivalry with the Buckeyes, at least on par with the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, our rivalry is rivalry is nowhere close to that because Ohio State simply doesn’t care enough about Penn State. For Buckeye fans it’s Michigan and then everyone else. At least when it comes to the Big Ten.
The other factor is that there is only one major football school in the entire state of Ohio. In Michigan, there’s Michigan and Michigan State. In Ohio, there’s nothing besides Ohio State. Down in the Cincinnati area some will cheer for the Bearcats or the Fighting Irish and in Toledo about a third of football fans are Michigan fans (no Spartan fans in Toledo), but everywhere else in the Buckeye State is Buckeye country. And in Buckeye country, everyone is in lockstep against Michigan.
The second lesson I learned from living in Ohio is that the Ohio State fan base’s hatred for Michigan is so strong and they see themselves as so much better than the Wolverines that lately their number one rival seems to be Alabama and/or the SEC, not Michigan. In fact, I believe that based on their actions over the past few years their number one rival right now is Alabama and/or the SEC, not Michigan. I see this as both a sign of where their program is on the college football landscape and a sign of disrespect toward Michigan.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, when Urban Meyer goes on the recruiting trail, he is not telling recruits to come to Columbus to beat Michigan four years in a row. He’s telling them to come to Columbus to get a free iPad (that is not a joke: http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/50579/ohio-state-giving-ipads-to-all-its-athletes) and to play SEC football. If you don’t believe me, then believe 2013 recruit Vonn Bell from Georgia who told ESPN on National Signing Day that Meyer is going to “bring the SEC up there.” http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8920776 Trust me. You don’t land nine recruits from SEC country in one class by telling them how much fun it is to beat Michigan.
Meyer and Ohio State’s bulls eye on the SEC is so obvious that later in the day at Meyer’s Signing Day press conference a reporter asked Meyer if he was “declaring war on Bama.” Of course Meyer said Ohio State’s top rival was Michigan, but only after a long uncomfortable thirty seconds of laughter in the press room. Meyer also candidly added, “I think there’s a little bit of a chase going on after the SEC. That’s fine. You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. If there’s a perception that we’re chasing them, that’s fine. I wouldn’t disagree with you.” No mention of chasing Michigan (and why would you want to chase a team that’s so far behind you.) No mention of Michigan State, Penn State or Wisconsin. No comparison of his program to any other in the Big Ten. He made it crystal clear that he wants his program to be compared to those in the SEC.
This focus on the SEC didn’t begin with Urban Meyer, whose previous stop was Florida, an SEC school. Since Jim Tressel roamed the sidelines in his sweater vest, Buckeye fans have had their sights set the SEC. Tressel and the Buckeyes were running an SEC style program (not just on the football field) in an effort to match the SEC and take down that conference. I believe that part of the reason they pleaded with the NCAA to allow ineligible players like Terrell Pryor to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl was so that they could beat Arkansas from the SEC. It pained the Buckeye fan base and the football program to have an 0-9 bowl record against SEC and they wanted to end that streak at all costs.
Some (including me) have wondered in recent years whether Ohio State fans would rather beat Michigan ten years in a row or the SEC ten years in a row. Though Meyer would never admit it, a lot of his fans would say “take down Bama.” All of last year, Buckeye fans told themselves they should have been in the 2012 BCS Championship Game and they wanted to run the table once more, not because it would mean they took down Michigan again, but because they wanted to take down Bama, Nick Saban and the SEC.
And sure Urban Meyer ruffled some feathers on the Big Ten recruiting trail before his first Signing Day, especially in Madison, Wisconsin (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/01/wisconsins-bielema-questions-urban-meyers-recruiting/ ), but that was nothing compared to the shots he took at his rivals in the SEC. Last year Ohio State snitched on turned in a Florida assistant coach (that Meyer hired) for a secondary recruiting violation. ESPN reported that Meyer was aware of the potential violation and endorsed Ohio State’s decision to snitch on turning in the coach. Meyer claimed he wasn’t involved, but you can decide for yourself how someone at Ohio State would have gotten wind of a Florida coach’s potential recruiting violation. ESPN also reported that this was the second time that Ohio State had ratted out turned in Florida for a potential recruiting violation since Meyer was hired at Ohio State. Florida was cleared of any wrongdoing in both occasions. Meyer also tried and succeeded in getting under the skin of or at least eliciting a response from Alabama’s Nick Saban through the media about strength of schedule.
When you put it all together there’s a clear reason why the Ohio State football team earned nicknamed the Deep South Buckeyes (a nickname that some Buckeye fans have unashamedly embraced.)
Now I am not suggesting that any Michigan fan move to Ohio for four years to get a taste of what true Deep South Buckeye fans are like. Just know that when it comes to their hatred for Michigan, they don’t play around like the average Wolverine fan, but at least right now their revulsion for their “rivals” in the SEC may be even stronger.