Saturday, September 1, 2007

They're coming

As sure as the sun rises in the east, once every two years our borders are invaded by the evil Lord Sweatervest and his horde of Orcs forged in the fire of Mt. Doom. So it will be again this November.

It impossible for anyone who didn't grow up with an intense rivalry like this one to truly understand to emotions that bubble to the surface at the end of every college football season. And there aren't too many rivalries that approach this one. Auburn-Alabama? Sure. UNC-Duke basketball? Probably. Red Sox-Yankees? Maybe.

I can clearly remember as a kid staring at some random Buckeye fan sitting a few seats away from me and wondering aloud, "How can he root for them, does he realize how dumb that makes him look?" It's Us vs. Them. Any middle ground there might be will be under 12 feet of water by mid October. It's the reason my five year old son got upset when he found out his favorite pre-school teacher was originally from Ohio.

Needless to say, the rivalry has not gone very well for us in the last couple of years. Part of that has been instances where they have had the better team ('02, '05), part of that has been coaching ('01, '04, and '06) I don't think that Lloyd Carr has coached poorly recently, so much as I think that Jim Tressel has come up real big.

Tressel has proven time and time again(with the exception of the Florida fiasco) that he knows how to prepare his team for big games . On more than a couple of occasions, he has unveiled some new wrinkles for the Michigan game that has put the Wolverines on their heels. I think that fans tend to underestimate how difficult it is to add new elements to an offense at the end of the season. We all think of offensive play calling as if it were a game of Madden, where all you have to change the offensive style is push a button. But in real life, every new play, every new formation, every new nuance takes hours of practice time. I think that in the end is Tressel's greatest strength, he is a good teacher, who understands how to use his practice time in run-up to a big game efficiently. He realizes that even a slightest change to break established tendencies can make a team much more dangerous. That, and the fact that he steals the souls of young boys.

On paper, this looks like an Ohio State team that will be down from last year. But the schedule sets up perfectly for a young team with lots of talent. The "tough" non-conference game is at Washington, which isn't what it was ten years ago. They play Purdue in early October, but then have a couple of gimmes before closing the season @Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and @Michigan. Jim Tressel will have plenty of time to mold his young halflings, er, players into a formidable foe by the time they invade that state up north.