Sat Nov 21 03:40pm EST
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Ohio State 21, Michigan 10. So that's it then: Michigan went out with as much fight as it could have reasonably expected to muster as a last-place, double-digit underdog against the conference champion -- the game was in some doubt well into the third quarter -- and now it can resign itself to another offseason of licking its wounds off its worst Big Ten season in more than 45 years. Unlike last year's catastrophe, which was foreshadowed right away in the opening loss to Utah, the tantalizing promise of a 4-0 start and top 25 billing in September makes the Great Collapse of '09 that much crueler. Quarterback Tate Forcier's interception parade in the fourth quarter today -- three picks in a span of six attempts, capping a five-turnover day for the freshman -- was a grimly appropriate finale to two gut-wrenching months.
There will be plenty of time for comparisons over the next nine months -- certainly the '09 Wolverines were better statistically than the '08 version, if only because they looked more like a typical Michigan outfit against the MAC fodder, and actually had a semblance of offense for most of the year -- but Michigan ends the season in the same place it ended last season, staring at a losing record and a new low in conference play, and this year is going to be much tougher than the last one for Rich Rodriguez: When the ABC broadcast team (ostensibly in Rod's corner) is openly discussing your possible termination as time ticks down, there's no question about the reality of the hot seat. Even with a true freshman quarterback, the minimum expectation was a return to .500 and a bowl game, rock-bottom in Ann Arbor in the 40 years preceding Rodriguez's arrival. He didn't get there -- he spectacularly didn't get there, with seven straight conference losses -- and the disapproving murmur of the last offseason is certain to become a deafening roar in 2010.
Maybe worst of all from a Michigan perspective: Ohio State's first-half malaise, burgeoning on calamity following an ugly midseason loss at Purdue, yielded to a five-game winning streak over the last month, back-to-back top-15 wins over Penn State and Iowa, an outright Big Ten championship and a reconfirmation of OSU as the league's premiere program. After six straight OSU wins, the contrast between the rivals has never been greater, and there's no end in sight.