This one is different.
We all knew what the games against the team from Pennsylvania would feel like. Hate. So...much...hate. We knew the crowd would be fired up, we knew the nation would be watching, we knew it would be a physical, close game.
This one is very different.
In the Stands
One of the points we heard a lot about - from journalists, commenters and Off Tacklers especially - was that Rutgers-TTFP lacked one key element: Respect. It had the intensity, the drama, the interest, but it lacked a mutual respectful competitive spirit that defines Big Ten intercollegiate football.
Is there a more quintessential Big Ten program than Michigan?
For Michigan week, the intensity is still there. The drama? Yeah, the drama is still there. The interest is still there. Now though, all that is tempered by a mutual respect.
The Rutgers faithful certainly understand and appreciate Michigan's station in the college football world. Even if they're down, they're still a great program with a fantastic history and second-to-none fans. Perhaps somewhat surprising - at least to the RU faithful used to being consistently overlooked - is the genuine respect that everyone in the Michigan football community has expressed for The State University of New Jersey and our fine football team.
Quite frankly, it's enough to make a Scarlet Knight blush.
On the Field
This one could get wild.
If these two teams met under more traditional circumstances (noon game, no coaching drama, standard uniform colors), we could expect a balanced, exciting affair. Rutgers brings a solid 4-1 record and the most sacks in the nation. Michigan brings high caliber athletes at every position.
Instead, the name of the game is variability. Will Michigan's coaching drama crush the team or bring them together? Will the nighttime blackout game fire up the Knights or will they get caught up in the atmosphere (context for Michigan fans: the stadium goes NUTS for Blackout games. It's a thing.)? With we see Gary SuperNova or Gary TurNova? Will we see 2013 Gardner or 2014 Gardner?
The popular national opinion is that Rutgers will dominate, due to the instability within the Michigan program. I don't see it. Athletes and coaches of this caliber don't just forget how to ball. Michigan is going to bring it and this one is going to go right down to the wire.
For both Rutgers and Michigan, this game will be defined by quarterback play. If Nova can hold onto the football and manage the game effectively, the Knights should win the day. If Gardner can survive the ferocious RU pass rush, he should see receivers running down the field all game.
What we do know is that the environment should be electric. Two storied programs - #1 and #2 on the FBS Games Played list. A nighttime blackout game between a team fighting for their first Big Ten win and a team fighting for their coach. One team driven by desperation; one by a desperate desire for respect.
A win for Rutgers is the difference between national relevance and anonymity. A win for Michigan might be the difference between life and death for this coaching staff. It's rare that one game has so much hanging in the balance.
This should be a wild one, football fans. I'm revising my projection to Rutgers 33, Michigan 30 in 3 OT. It's going to be an instant classic that we talk about for years.
So, who you got in this one?