Beat Michigan week is here. For the past several decades, Beat Michigan week has played out with some common, familiar themes. It begins by discussing the team up north the second the previous week's game ends. The hype builds through the week speculating on which bowl the Buckeyes will go to with a win. Game days at the 'Shoe begin with a tunnel of pride and in all but one year of the Tressel era, end with a delirious celebration followed by 6 weeks of anticipation for the upcoming bowl.
This week will start the same way but end much differently.
This year, thanks to NCAA sanctions which include a post-season ban, the Michigan game is it for the Buckeyes. Win or lose on Saturday, the Buckeyes will be home for the holidays.
If this was a simple rebuilding year, that would be the end of the story. It would be a 9-3 season and a quick jump ahead to next year.
However, this is an 11-0 season. The Buckeyes are one of just two major college unbeatens left. They are ranked 4th in the country. Losses by Oregon and Kansas State over the weekend have left the door open for the Buckeyes to possibly grab a share of a National Title.
Not exactly a normal year.
A petition is already circulating. It's appealing to the President of the United States to use an Executive Order to repeal the NCAA sanctions and get the Buckeyes into the BCS national championshio picture.
Pretty sure that's never been a part of a Beat Michigan week before.
Come game time on Saturday, the members of the undefeated 2002 National Championship team will be honored for their acheivement. A great and fitting tribute to Ohio State's most recent National Champions.
Coach Jim Tressel is also scheduled to attend.
Coach Tressel resigned under the pressure of the ongoing NCAA invesitgation into the tattoos for memorabilia matter involving Ohio State players. Tressel was accused of not following proper procedure when he learned of the potential violations involving his players. Tressel's lapse of judgement combined with the original violations committed by the players landed the team on NCAA probation which included the post-season ban.
Luke Fickell replaced Coach Tressel for one season and guided the Buckeyes to a 6-7 season.
Urban Meyer was hired and has yet to lose a game.
Which brings us again to Beat Michigan week and the impending passing of these two ships on the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Pretty sure that's never happened before.
Jim Tressel and his National Champions will be right there in front of a team which-like the '02 team--is perfect to this point.
The difference of course is that this year's 11-0 team won't get the chance to play for the title.
Tressel's "lapse of judgment" plays a role in that of course.
Awkward? You bet.
To suggest this scenario in any way takes away from the accomplishments of either team is ridiculous. The 2002 team has a championship that will live forever. The 2012 team is on the cusp of doing something only five Ohio State team have ever done.
Both teams have earned all the accolades that come their way.
But this will be an awkward, chin rubbing moment--the likes of which we've not scene before at Ohio State.
Tressel deserves a warm welcome from the fans at Ohio Stadium. He did a lot of good in his decade in Columbus both on and off the football field.
However, one could also easily understand any lingering bitterness directed toward the man who was in control when the program spun out of control.
Would things be different if it had never happened? Would the Jim Tressel lead 2012 Buckeyes be 11-0, ranked 4th in the country and vying for another national title?
We'll never know.
What we do know is the two worlds will come together briefly Saturday.
Let's hope Coach Tressel gets the respect he deserves. Let's also hope Urban Meyer's Buckeyes finish off the perfect season, re-setting the bar in the greatest rivalry in college sports and closing the book once and for all on the ugliness of the last two years.