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Playing ‘The Game’: OSU, Michigan prep for battle

Andy Gottesman / Lantern Photographer

Whether undefeated or winless, it’s still Ohio State-Michigan.

In 2006, OSU and Michigan clashed in Columbus undefeated as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.

Any sensible observer could have explained the magnitude of the stakes.

On Saturday, the Buckeyes will meet Michigan at The Big House, with a Big Ten title and trip to the Rose Bowl already wrapped up.

Still, as OSU coach Jim Tressel warned, anyone involved in the unparalleled rivalry can find grounds for motivation.

“There’s a reality in life that if you take anything for granted, you’re probably not thinking right,” Tressel said. “We talk about a lot of things that we shouldn’t take for granted. Maybe some things that aren’t even that real to us, but when you talk about the Ohio State-

Michigan game, that’s very real. So I’d like to think our guys don’t take anything for granted, although I’m sure we all do take things for granted, but this wouldn’t be one of them.”

The Buckeyes are currently riding their longest winning streak in the series’ 112-year history, having won each of the last five meetings.

A sixth straight mashing of Michigan might spark comparisons to the Wolverines’ domination at the start of the series, when Michigan won 12 of the first 14 contests, tying the other two.

Since taking the reins at Ohio State, Tressel has coached the Buckeyes to victory over their rivals to the north in seven of eight meetings.

“I’ve known before I was even part of the series of the significance of the game and the excitement of the game,” Tressel said. “It’s part of you if you like football and you’re from Ohio State or you’re from Michigan, or if you’re in the Big Ten. You just grow up knowing that we’re fortunate to be a part of this game. It’s extraordinary.”

While OSU will feed off the motivation to stomp on a struggling Michigan program, the Wolverines will rely upon desperation.

Michigan must beat Ohio State to secure bowl eligibility. Otherwise, Rich Rodriguez’s squad will start the offseason early for the second consecutive season.

“The nice thing of the Ohio State-Michigan game is it’s always let it all hang out because this is it,” Tressel said. “I mean, this is what it’s all about. And I think if you look specifically at Michigan, they could be at eight or nine wins right now with the ball bouncing this way different or a call being made this way different. I mean, that’s the fine line in college football.”

So, despite the disparity in records, statistics and performance, it is all thrown out the window when the two programs go head-to-head, Tressel said.

“It’s Ohio State-Michigan,” he said. “I’m sure you could talk to some people who have participated in this game as a player or a coach and they could tell you that probably in the forefront of their mind of their memories of their time here, more so is the Ohio State-Michigan things that flow through their head than it is which bowl did you go to and where were you ranked and this and that, so what’s at stake is Ohio State-Michigan.”

The nature of the rivalry brings out the best in both sides, which represents the best in college football.

It didn’t take much time for Rodriguez, closing out his second year at the helm at Michigan, to take notice of the passion and enthusiasm that encompasses the rivalry.

“I don’t think it takes long to understand the rivalry when you’re a coach at Michigan or Ohio State,” he said. “You don’t even have to coach here or play here to understand the intensity of it if you watch college football.”

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Ohio State will play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

The undetermined future to Michigan’s season rides on the 106th meeting in the OSU-Michigan rivalry, and Tressel hopes his team is playing its best football to thwart a Wolverine attempt at evening its record.

“What we’ve got to focus on is feeling like at the end of this game we’ve played the best we’re capable of playing,” he said. “It’s game 12. We’re as healthy as we are, and got all these experiences and learned all these lessons, and did we play the best we were capable of playing? Making the assumption Michigan will do that, because most people do that in the Ohio State-Michigan game, so all those other outside things, whether they’re outside things in their world or outside things in our world, this week there’s only one thing.”

 

WEEKLY FOOTBALL PICKS

Saturday’s Game: No. 10 Ohio State @ Michigan

Quinn Pitcock

Overall: 18-6     Last week: 2-1

Prediction: Ohio State 45, Michigan 13
Comment: This game will be a true test of our focus before the Rose bowl.
Favorite memory: Pregame speech my senior year and the fans rushing the field aftervictory are my favorite OSU vs. M*chigan memories.

Pitcock played defensive tackle for OSU from 2002–06.

 

Justin Zwick

Overall: 16-8     Last week: 3-0

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 10
Comment: Defense plays another great game while the offense continues to grind it out but sprinkles in a few big plays against Michigan’s weak secondary. Bucks roll!

Zwick played quarterback for OSU from 2002–06.

 

Malcolm Jenkins

Overall: 16-8      Last week: 3-0

Prediction: Ohio State 21, Michigan 10
Comment: OSU’s defense is playing great and the offense won’t have to feel any pressure to have quick scores. They just have to maintain the drives and not turn the ball over. Look for the “D” to have a big game. I’m calling this the 6th in a row.
Favorite memories: Beating them at home when we were No. 1 and they were No. 2 in ’06, that was an epic game. And last year when I slammed Michigan’s wide receiver Greg Mathews in the beginning of the game.

Jenkins played cornerback for OSU from 2005–08.

Marcus Freeman

Overall: 13-11     Last week: 1-2

Prediction: Ohio State 28, Michigan 10
Comment: This is the greatest rivalry in all sports. No matter what the records are, it will be a fight until the end.
Favorite memory: Celebrating in Ohio stadium with OSU students after the win in ’06.

Freeman played linebacker for OSU from 2004–08.

Zack Meisel

Overall: 12-12    Last week: 2-1

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 17
Comment: Rabid Wolverine fans get over-excited about a first quarter lead, then reality sets in quickly once the typically slow-starting Buckeyes get rolling against a porous Michigan defense.

Meisel is the sports editor for The Lantern.

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