"THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS."
Those words — the Schembechler Doctrine — were the ones that convinced the seniors of the University of Michigan football team to put it together again for one last title run. Just about every fall feels as though it could be a "special" one in Ann Arbor. This fall, more than most, as the Wolverines returned a starting senior quarterback, running back, and left tackle, all of whom might have eschewed millions to get two four-year old monkeys off their backs by beating Ohio State and winning a bowl game.
Of course, things didn't work themselves out so neatly. After back-to-back home losses to start the season, the Michigan faithful were beside themselves, joining Facebook groups like "Fire Lloyd Carr" and writing to the Michigan Daily to protest the team's slow start and apparent mismanagement.
This year wasn't about individuals or records, or anything besides "the team, the team, the team." And the team is still in it, with a chance to win the Big Ten title, outright, and gain a Rose Bowl berth in the process.
The Buckeyes haven't been nearly as interesting. Save for Brian Robiskie, none of their offensive players jump off the television screen. No one knows whether their fabled defense could live up to the hype against college football's best teams, because Ohio State didn't bother to schedule any quality opponents this season. That they managed to lose, at home, to unranked Illinois, might have been the universe's way of saying that the Buckeyes didn't love up to the hype.
But even before the Hiccup at the Horseshoe, there were questions as to whether Ohio State really deserved its #1 ranking. Given that LSU, Kansas, and Oklahoma all have conference championship games yet to come, against opponents that are, by definition, "quality," there is a good chance that Ohio State could've been displaced from its top spot without incurring a single loss.
Saturday's game (12 p.m., ABC) won't be quite as big as last year's historic #1 v. #2 match-up. Even so, since 1969, Michigan-Ohio State has been the quintessential rivalry, college football's equivalent of Red Sox-Yankees. Nothing in that regard has changed. But for one man this game might be bigger than most Big Games — it might be his last.
It's not every day that a Michigan man distances himself from his team's past.
"It's a new year, it's a new team, and we're not really talking about the past or the future," said offensive lineman Adam Kraus at the team press conference. "It's about this team, and we're excited to get out there on Saturday and play."