CLEVELAND, Ohio – How did you like the Michigan State-Ohio State game?
Oh, not the fourth-and-2 run for one yard that so sticks in Buckeye throats that quarterback Braxton Miller is coming back for his senior year to try to gain the yard he was short. The reference is to the basketball game -- No. 3 Ohio State, losing after a huge comeback forced overtime, at No. 5 Michigan State.
Because you won’t find that kind of matchup in football. The national respect and prestige in the Big Ten are found in the winter game these days.
It is amusing that Ohio State has been blamed for Big Ten football shortfalls ever since back-to-back losses in the 2006 and 2007 national championship games. The reverse is true. The Buckeyes have been let down by the Big Ten in football, and specifically by Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State.
In the BCS era that has now passed, to be succeeded by a four-team playoff beginning next season, no one played in more BCS bowls than Ohio State (10), and only Southern California won as many (six), providing you admit the 2011 Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas was real and not a game expunged by the NCAA’s cynical Committee on Infractions.
Ohio State needs a strong, vibrant Michigan, and so does the Big Ten, along with a Nebraska that is Nebraska again and not whatever half-baked imitation it has been ever since Frank Solich was fired early in the century.
Michigan is the biggest MIA. Michigan is a national brand name, the only one in the Big Ten comparable to Ohio State. Ohio State needs Michigan and the other missing powers to be powerful again because otherwise the Buckeyes are eternally doomed by a circular argument.
To wit, if they win decisively in a conference game, it must be because the opponent was no good, while if they win a competitive conference game, it must be because they themselves were overrated.
For its part, Nebraska must move on beyond the polarizing Bo Pelini, a former Buckeye player, as coach and revivify the history and traditions that were seriously damaged during the reign of error of Bill Callahan. Callahan was a prairie version of Michigan’s own human exploding cigar, Rich Rodriguez.
These, however, are only football problems at Michigan and Nebraska, solvable by football remedies.
James Franklin faces a tougher task if, as seems probable, the Vanderbilt coach takes the job at Penn State soon. (Full disclosure: I am a proud Vanderbilt graduate.)
On the one hand, Franklin must cope with a reform movement in once Happy Valley, decrying the emphasis on football because protection of the program came before concern for the victims in the shocking child rape scandal. On the other hand, he must deal with a recidivist element that wants to go back to the good old days of a Paterno family fiefdom that still feeds the Joe Paterno flame.
No victories on the football field will make the scandal and its coverup go away, but Penn State is greater than the sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky, and his enablers. Football is one of the links that binds the community together.
Perhaps in trying to pull Penn State from the mud, a task made easier by lightening the heavy penalties NCAA president Mark Emmert imposed in a spasm of imperialism, Franklin will remember the links of anchor chain he gave to his Vanderbilt Commodores players. He passed out the nautical props to remind them that they were all connected. Franklin carried a link himself.
He devised a three-fingered "Anchor Down" hand gesture that mimicked the flukes of an anchor. It meant everyone was a member of the same lodge, just as is the case with the Hook’em Horns and Gig’em Aggies signals at Texas and Texas A&M.
Hilariously, he had all the orange-colored (Tennessee’s hue) Gatorade vending machines in the athletic facilities replaced by machines in the school colors of black and gold.
Vandy had only been to four bowl games in its entire Franklin prehistory. Now it has been to three straight, winning two. Students began changing the words to the fight song, “Dynamite,” from: “Win or lose, the Fates will choose” to the more forceful “we will choose.”
Franklin simply refused to believe the sound, well-documented arguments for why he could not win at Vanderbilt. There are many discouraging words for him to ignore at Penn State too.
But -- if he is the one hired to forge new links at one of the country’s great, fallen powers, in a conference in which an entire triumvirate of traditional powers is missing and little immediate help is expected from incoming members Rutgers and Maryland -- he must know it will be a heavy chain to haul from the depths.