While Hayes never lets the pass rise above the rank of leprosy, Schembechler considers it no worse, say, than a bad chest cold. Michigan's passing offense ranks a modest eighth in the conference, but Quarterback Dennis Franklin can throw well when he has to, and last year passed 23 times against Ohio State, completing 13 for 160 yards. It is doubtful that Michigan will be that adventuresome again next week. Ohio State's passing defense ranks fourth in the nation.
No matter how it goes, the Big Ten champion still will be either Michigan or Ohio State and there is little evidence that anyone will be seriously challenging the pair for a long time to come. Not that everyone has given up trying.
"People tend to have short memories," said Alex Agase, now in his first year at Purdue after a long term at Northwestern. "In 1970 Northwestern came within a fumble of winning the championship. We were playing Ohio State and we were leading 10-7 and had them really subdued until we fumbled on our 28 in the third quarter. Ohio State beat us 24-10 and won the championship with a 7-0 record; we tied with Michigan for second with a 6-1 record. And in 1971 Michigan won the title with 8-0 and we were second ahead of Ohio State. These things travel in cycles. Twenty years ago when I worked at Iowa State, the Big Eight was known as Oklahoma and the Seven Dwarfs. I guarantee you that changed."
The answer, said Wisconsin's John Jardine, is recruiting. So much for the answer. The problem is how do you get a top athlete to pass up Ohio State and Michigan, which have been going to the Rose Bowl every other year, and come, say, to Wisconsin, which hasn't been to Pasadena since 1963?
"It's tough," Jardine said. "The thing that marks Ohio State and Michigan is depth, and you have to recruit to match that. We certainly try. We tell a kid to come to our school and he'll have a chance to beat the Ohio States and the Michigans. But he says, 'I can go to those schools now and win. I've only got four years.' A lot of people wonder how they keep winning. I'll tell you: every guy at every position is worried about the guy behind him. Every starter wants to have a good game because he knows he won't be playing the next week if he doesn't. We have the same kind of competition here. At offensive guard."
Then there is the problem of economics. Iowa had cut into the Ohio State-Michigan monopoly in the late '50s under Forest Evashevski, but lately they have fallen on hard financial times. Illinois has made some gains since Bob Blackman arrived from Dartmouth in 1971, but there are rumors that the conference and the NCAA are investigating the school's basketball program and some of the slop could spill over onto the gridiron. If it does, forget everything. Northwestern is in financial trouble. So is Minnesota. Wisconsin is feeling the pinch. With its semi-magic name, Michigan State could move upward but seemingly is hung up in neutral gear.
"I'm sure we'll see a definite change in five years," said Corso, who isn't off to the best start at Indiana. "I heard that the Chicago Bears are trying to get into the conference. That will make it a three-team race."