I wanted to open this by saying that Coach Rodriguez is in a no-win situation, but that not only sounds hopeless, but perhaps hits a little too close to the Vest right now. But I have been thinking about this as the usual "Rodriguez hasn't embraced the rivalry and it's going to cost him." floats around during Ohio State week. The problem for Rodriguez is, he can't embrace it like you want him to and he can't embrace it like you want him to for a reason that some people miss.
Adam Rittenberg put together some numbers on current Big Ten Coaches records in Rivalry Games, which leads me to my overall point:
If Jim Tressel beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is relatively happy. We don't have empirical data on this, but if Ohio State went 1-11 and beat Michigan, I am pretty sure the good people of Ohio who call themselves Buckeye fans would be pretty happy.
If Mark Dantonio beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is ecstatic. Michigan State fans live to beat Michigan. It is their raison d'être. Sparty spends 364 days dreaming of hanging one on Michigan and a 365th hoping it goes their way.
If Tim Brewster beats Michigan (in years that Michigan and Minnesota play for the Jug), his entire fanbase will be largely satisfied. I am sure Gopher fans would love to see wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, but beating Michigan is pretty high on the to-do list for a season.
If Ron Zook beats Michigan, his fanbase will be oddly placated. Illinois considers Michigan a rival (which was true in, say, the 1920s), and Michigan looks around and says "you guys, too?" and laments that the Illini have taken Michigan behind the woodshed in consecutive years.
If Joe Paterno beats Michigan, his fanbase is relatively satisfied, particularly after nine straight losses to Michigan, it certainly helps. I don't know if Michigan/Penn State is a rivalry, but you have to get up for the game nonetheless. Plus, it's Joe Paterno, do you think he really worries about what his fanbase is thinking? He's freaking JoePa!
In order for Michigan fans to be happy, Rich Rodriguez has to, at a minimum, beat Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, or at least three of the four, and really it's all four. So if that's the case, why not just try to win all 12. You give every other team on your schedule your best shot and you see what happens.
If Rodriguez "embraces" the rivalry, what is the opportunity cost? If he does something in every practice to beat Ohio State, does that come at the opportunity to be at the best for Notre Dame, or Michigan State, or Penn State, or Minnesota, or Illinois, or any other team that wants to punch Michigan in the mouth every chance it gets?
Part of the problem with being at the top, being the powerhouse, is that everyone makes you the focal point of their year. "If we can just beat Michigan, well, things will be better." Who does Michigan get this with? This is not a complaint, mind you, it comes with the territory. But you cannot ask Coach Rodriguez to "embrace" this rivalry like Jim Tressel for a very simple reasons. Tressel's fans demand that the rivalry not only be embraced, but be lived in, worn as a second skin every waking moment of every day, and dreaming of beating Michigan in his sleep. Michigan fans want Rodriguez to never lose to anyone who considers us their rival.
It is impossible to be all things to all people. He's a football coach, not the great and powerful Oz. You start to fix things by winning one game. Maybe if he does that, people will say he's embraced the rivalry, simply because he won. Winning changes everything. Start changing things Saturday and see what the world looks like on Sunday.