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Commentary: Behind Hoke, Michigan football program is now in better shape than Ohio State’s

Austin Owens / Lantern photographer

As Ohio State coach Jim Tressel helped turn the annual OSU-Michigan matchup into a rivalry about as one-sided as the rivalry between a bug and a windshield wiper, an internal debate raged on inside Buckeye Nation: Would the rivalry — and college football, for that matter — be better off with a more competitive Michigan program?

While some fans tired of the last weekend of the season being more of a formality than a tradition argued that it was better for the Wolverines to be a formidable foe, others warned to enjoy the Buckeyes’ dominance — which has included seven consecutive wins against “that school up north” — because, as history shows, it won’t last forever.

The latter point is being proven before our very eyes.

The Wolverines might not snap the Buckeyes’ streak this year, or even in 2012, but it’s hard to look objectively at the OSU and Michigan programs and not see that they are on opposite paths.

On one path, you have Tressel’s Buckeyes, which, thanks to a number of violations committed by players and coach alike, have the OSU football program potentially facing the most severe sanctions in its 120-year history. Although no one will know which sanctions will be placed on the Buckeyes until after Tressel and other university officials meet with NCAA Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12, judging by the notice of allegations the NCAA sent to OSU, it’s unlikely the Buckeyes’ punishment will be kind.

For Tressel’s dishonesty with both his school and the NCAA, as well as him knowingly playing ineligible players in the 2010 season, his Buckeyes will likely have the 2010 season vacated, and could face a loss of scholarships and a postseason ban. Ask the folks at Southern California how easy those sanctions are to overcome.

Even if the best case scenario occurs for OSU — the NCAA decides the school’s self-imposed five-game suspensions for Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey and Solomon Thomas is enough — there’s enough negative attention and bad publicity surrounding the program to hurt recruiting for years to come.

On the other path is Michigan, which, after spending three forgettable years under former coach Rich Rodriguez, appears to be on an upswing after having a breath of fresh air breathed into it by Rodriguez’s replacement, Brady Hoke.

Unlike Rodriguez, who engineered a 15-22 record in three seasons in Ann Arbor, Mich., Hoke seems to understand the tradition of Michigan football. He’s emphasized defense, the quality of character of his roster and beating “that school in Ohio.” He’s essentially doing everything short of wearing a sweater-vest like the one Tressel did upon arriving in Columbus in 2001.

Hoke will have a tougher time rebuilding the Wolverines than Tressel did OSU a decade ago, but he appears to be on the right path. He already has three 4-star recruits committed to his 2012 recruiting class, and of his six total commits, three hail from the state of Ohio.

The Buckeyes’ 2012 class has five committed recruits, all Ohio natives.  One is a 5-star recruit and two are 4-star recruits.

The immediate impact of Tressel’s transgressions will likely include his seventh consecutive win against Michigan being vacated. The long-term result, however, will be the elimination of the Buckeyes’ dominance against the Wolverines.

And that’s something that might take a breath of fresh air in Columbus to restore.

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