Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Don't forget to take the time to say thanks to any loved one (friend or family) you know who serves in our armed forces, if it weren't for them we might not have the independence today that allows you to enjoy my awesome sportsblog. Now on to the topic at hand.
The addition of the University of Nebraska to the Big Ten Conference(to become official in 2011) has, in recent months and weeks, sent shockwaves around the college football nation. The Big Ten has now increased its membership to 12, and, while not in a rush to rename one of the most marketable brands in all of sports, certainly has strengthened its position as a power conference. Recently debate has centered around how to divide up the teams in the Big 10 so that the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry still remains intact. On paper that would seem to be the most logical way to go about separate the conference into two divisions, so long as both OSU and Michigan remain the top dogs in the conference. But what if, however, Michigan continues its freefall into college football irrelevance? What if the Wolverines, after failing to qualify for a bowl game the past two seasons, are banned from potential postseason play in at least one of the next two years due to violations of NCAA practice rules? Ohio State has clearly set itself apart as the cream of the Big Ten, and while their current two decade rivalry with Penn State has certainly become heated, it does not have the luster of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Nebraska can come in and make more shockwaves by bringing it to the Buckeyes from the get go. As a newcomer, Nebraska could not immediately lift the OSU-UN rivalry to the status that the OSU-UM game shares, but with a few good games it wouldn't take long. That is in part Why I believe when it is all said and done OSU-Nebraska will overtake OSU-Michigan for the number one rivalry in all of sports.
The history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry says that it won't be easy to replace it. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have played each other for more than 100 years, with over half of their contests deciding who would win the Big Ten, with a handful of them deciding who would play for the national championship. Then there is the pure hatred between the two fan bases, although as I grow older it seems to me that in Columbus the rivalry means more to Buckeye fans than it does in Ann Arbor to Michigan fans. Ohio State-Michigan also boasts the legacies of two college football legends, the late coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, as well as dozens of former all-americans and heisman trophy winners. Nebraska, however, does have its own storied tradition when it comes to football; however, you might as well be talking about another country when mentioning Nebraska to the average Ohio State fan.
One factor Nebraska does have in its favor is the steady decline of the University of Michigan football program. The Wolverines have failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive season, a dubious feat that had not been duplicated in the previous 40+ years. Michigan appears to be poised to make a comeback this season, but they also still appear to be without a consensus starting quarterback, which could spell trouble. Should Rich Rod get fired after this season, there should be a laundry list of former coaches waiting to be his successor. But it takes a certain kind of individual to coach Michigan, as Rodriguez is finding out, and I don't think a lot of the better coaches want that type of scrutiny. Which means that UM could be in a freefall for years to come. Ohio State shows no signs of slowing, as they already have top billed recruiting class in 2011, and coach Jim Tressel isn't going anywhere. If Nebraska can give Ohio State a little competition, this could be a budding rivalry. Ohio State fans are still fuming about the Florida Gators and the Buckeyes loss to them in the NC game in '07, and the two teams haven't played each other since. Imagine the possibilties that an every year Buckeye-Cornhusker game would create.
Another reason OSU-Nebraska has the potential to overtake OSU-Michigan is that Ohio State fans are becoming bored with the latter rivalry. Ohio State has taken it to Michigan six straight times, and it doesn't appear that Michigan will have an answer for the Buckeyes anytime soon. Sure, with each new season bring new optimism, but let's face the facts: Ohio State is favored to be a national title contender this year, and they have already got the top recruiting class for 2011 in the eyes of many. Michigan, on the other hand, has one of three individuals who could start at quarterback(not necessarily because they're that good) is coming off consecutive lossing seasons, and could face major NCAA sanctions regarding their recent practice scandal which could include a loss of scholarship(s) and a postseason ban. So while you will hear the average Michigan fan rave about UM holding records that no other school will touch, remember they're right: it's not likely that a Division-IAA school such as Appalchian State will defeat a top five ranked Division I-A school such as Michigan for a while, if ever again. Nebraska brings a team that not only made a bowl game (which it won in dominating fashion, 33-0 against Arizona) it also came a within a potential missed field goal of knocking Texas out of the national champioship game. So Ohio State fans shouldn't have to wait long to have another late season game they actually have to sweat about.
Finally, Nebraska is looking to make a splash in the Big Ten, and there is not a better way to do it than by beating Ohio State. For all the talk of how Michigan is the winningest program in NCAA Division I-A history, Ohio State is the face of the Big Ten Conference. No one commands more respect and hatred than the Buckeyes. It is no secret that Ohio State has driven the conference's move toward expansion. As much as it pains me to say this, should Ohio State lose to Nebraska in their very first meeting, it might be the best thing that could happen for the rivalry. As the new kid on the block, everyone in the conference will be looking to bully the Cornhuskers around. Should Nebraska beat Ohio State, that will certainly anger the Ohio State fan base, and put Lincoln, Nebraska on a whole new map, one that is called the Big Ten Conference.
While most people are wondering how conference realignment will work now that the Big Ten has 12 members, the University of Michgian should be more worried about how the University of Nebraska could potentially replace it as a perennial power. Given the recent state of affairs in Ann Arbor, combined with the consistent dominance Ohio State has had in the Big Ten, and it migh not be long before everyone is calling OSU-Nebraska 'the greatest rivarly in college sports.'