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Michigan-Ohio State, understood as an academic phobia

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The Game is designed to stir up every test anxiety a Michigan fan can experience.

Photo by Khris Hale/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

Six days a week during football season, a good number of Michigan fans, particularly the ones you find in the smarter corners of the college football internet, are some of the most rational people you can meet.

This kind of online Michigan fan doesn’t want to fire their head coach after every loss. They don’t scream at disembodied polls and rankings. They have a pretty healthy understanding of where Michigan sits as a national power, what needs to happen to improve that standing, and how long that ascension might reasonably take. These Wolverines have lots of other interests, like books about military history, military history movies, military history museums, and stew recipes.

(Yes, Michigan has plenty of fans who don’t fit this profile. Condensing big groups into single archetypes is sloppy anthropology, as I am certain these aforementioned Rational Michigan Fans would be quick to remind me in a firm but polite email they sign with their real name.)

Then Saturday happens, and those thoughtful Michigan Men and Women become screaming, raving, overflowing pots of boiling emotion just like the rest of us. (If you’re thinking “hey, all fans are normal until the game starts,” may I remind you: Arkansas.) And no Saturday makes that emotional shift as dramatic as the Ohio State game.

You might assume that’s because Ohio State is Michigan’s biggest or most important rival. Bo Schembechler certainly said so.

Can you imagine waiting a whole year for one football game? To have your mood for the next 365 days depend on how you did that one cold Saturday afternoon? That’s the way I felt about the Michigan-Ohio State game...

But that’s true of any recurring series. Michigan plays every team in the division only once a year; lose to Maryland and you’ll have to sit with that for those same 365 days. The truly vexing thing about Ohio State is that it’s (almost) always the last game on the schedule. You know what that makes The Game?

A final exam. And for the better part of most of the 2000s , this matchup has preyed on every possible academic anxiety. No wonder it makes Michigan fans so mad!

The test is flawed (2001, 2002, 2007)

Which of the following stat lines comes from a quarterback on the winning team?

A. 11 of 18, 118 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception

B. 7 of 13, 50 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception

C. 10 of 14, 124 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

___ A & C
___ A & B
___ C
___ None of the above
___ All of the above

According to the answer key, the correct choice is “all of the above.” A and C are Craig Krenzel in ‘01 and ‘02, respectively, and B is Todd Boeckman in 2007. These are stat lines that should barely beat Illinois, not numbers that should contribute to three victories over Michigan. Whoever put this test together is an idiot, and I’d like to file a formal complaint with the College Board.

You ran out of time (2006, 2013)

Losing points on a test because an answer was wrong is frustrating. Losing points on a test because you failed to get to the question before time was called is existentially nauseating. You had those answers. Those points were yours for the taking. But time conspired against you, and if you’d only had five – hell, even just TWO – more minutes, things would have ended differently.

2006 Michigan outscored Ohio State 25-14 in the second half but lost by three. 2013 Michigan trailed by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter and scored what could have been the tying or go-ahead score with 32 seconds left before they failed on the two point conversion. Did Ohio State really win those games? Or did the merciless advance of time?

(It was Ohio State.)

You’re not wearing pants (2008, 2010, 2018)

Combined score of these games: Ohio State 141, Michigan 53. 2018 was the closest, as the Wolverines only lost by 23. It’s also the game where Ohio State scored the most points they’ve ever scored against Michigan.

In the nightmare where you’re Porky Piggin’ it during your final exam, the test itself adds to the stress, but it’s not the primary concern. You’re embarrassed because your ass is out and everyone can see it. Everyone saw your ass, Michigan. You tried to pull your shirt down, but we all still saw it.

The group project from Hell (2009)

Most group projects turn into an unequal division of labor, with some members annoyed that they’re carrying more of the load and other members annoyed that they’re being constantly bugged by the load-carrying members to come to meetings and shit. We all accept that this is the group project experience, embrace which of the two sides we’re born to be, and push forward.

But sometimes a group project turns far more disastrous. Sometimes, without warning, one member...just doesn’t handle their shit. That leaves the group turning in something woefully incomplete, suffering the consequences, and seething forever.

Anyways, in the 2009 game, Tate Forcier threw four picks and lost a fumble in the end zone that Ohio State recovered for a touchdown.

You never graduated (2005)

This is the dream where you get a call or an email, years after leaving college, informing you that, actually, you’re one course short of your degree. Somehow, everything you’ve done since then will be invalidated, because you’ve been living an inadvertent lie. All that work, ruined because you didn’t pay attention at the end of your college career!

In 2005, Michigan kicked a field goal with 7:45 left to take a nine point lead. Troy Smith had done very little to that point, the Wolverines had forced three turnovers, and, sure, the lead could have been greater since that field goal came from the Ohio State two-yard line. But this was a victory, right?

Answer the following question to find out:

Ohio State drives 67 yards in 65 seconds for a touchdown. If Michigan eats up two minutes and 12 seconds of clock and punts on 4th and 4 from the Ohio State 35, what will the Buckeyes do next?

A) Muff the punt, allowing Michigan to recover and win

B) Move the ball inside the Michigan 30 but miss a field goal

C) Score the go-ahead touchdown quickly, giving Michigan enough time to counterpunch and win

D) Put together a twelve play touchdown drive where they never convert a third down because they never face a third down and leave Michigan, down four, with 24 seconds left that they won’t turn into a miracle

E) The answer is D but don’t make me say it

You can put E if you want. I get it.

The test is rigged (2016)

Michigan threw a pick six, lost a fumble inside the Ohio State five, threw another interception that set up Ohio State’s only other touchdown of regulation, and let the Buckeyes drive 77 yards to tie the game, which they won in double overtime.

Michigan fans did not want to hear about any of those things. They wanted to talk about The Spot, And How It Was Bad.

Did you have a kid in your high school who waged war with a teacher over a test they felt was fundamentally unfair? Did you start to worry that this kid had invested too much in a single grade, and that they really believed that C+ in Calculus was going to derail the arc of their life completely?

That’s the 2016 game for Michigan fans. They’re going to the next school board meeting, and they’re bringing a Powerpoint presentation.


Michigan fans aren’t alone in football-related fugue states. Check out: