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November 17, 2006
More at stake than ever for Ohio State, Michigan
"Let's face reality, the UM front 7 is good. We need to exploit it for what it is not, pass D. Anybody that thinks we win this game with isos and power plays is nuts. But, no matter what I think, JT will do the right thing to win the game. Can't wait!"
-- 8183 on the The Horseshoe Lounge message board on BuckeyGrove.com.
The 103rd football game between Ohio State and Michigan has been proclaimed the most significant in the history of the glorious series because it's seen as a stepping stone to the national championship game.
Possibly even for the losing team.
As strange as it seems, this clash of No. 1 Ohio State (11-0) and No. 2 Michigan (11-0) marks the first time the traditional rivals have faced each other as the nation's top two teams.
"We've played this game now for 102 years," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "To have this be the first time in over a century that both teams are ranked 1-2 … it's a dream to not only coach in this rivalry, but to be able to play in a game like this.''
The magnitude of the game was put in perspective a bit Friday, when legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died at the age of 77.
Schembechler and former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes were involved in several memorable games. Although their rivalry was often heated, it was also defined by mutual respect.
"If Bo is not a winner, I never saw one and I should know," Hayes told The Lantern - Ohio State's student newspaper - on Feb. 10, 1986. "He beat me the last three games we played. We've fought and quarreled for years, but we're great friends."
Of all the Ohio State-Michigan contests, this year's has the most at stake.
It is obviously a big event when there is clamor for a rematch before the match. College football observers have already been debating whether it is feasible and/or politically correct for the Wolverines and Buckeyes to reconvene in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8 to settle the national championship.
Both Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and Carr were even asked about a possible rematch in interviews this week.
"I have enough to worry about with this game," Carr said. "And whatever comes after is part of the system. It will be what it will be."
No doubt, Ohio State senior quarterback Troy Smith is Carr's greatest worry.
Smith can clinch the Heisman Trophy with a solid performance, yet he has been nothing short of spectacular in leading the Buckeyes to victories in his two previous starts against Michigan.
Last year he completed 27 of 37 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a touchdown as the Buckeyes prevailed 25-21. In 2004, Smith completed 13 of 23 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 145 and another touchdown as the Buckeyes rolled 37-21.
"My success is credited to everyone around me," Smith said. "It is not just me who is 2-0 versus Michigan. It is everyone who was on the field. I give all the credit to my offensive line. Without them no big plays could be made and without them I would not be 2-0."
Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley, who has posted 11 sacks, agreed with Smith.
"You can't really focus on one guy," Woodley said. "It's an all-around team. They have other weapons in there."
Success hasn't come easily against the Michigan defense, which might be more equipped to contain Smith this season.
The Wolverines' defense ranks third nationally, and they're the best in the country against the run. Michigan has also accumulated 40 sacks, which is the most in the country.
"Their defense is the best we've played thus far," Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez said. "Their front seven are tremendous and their secondary is very talented.
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"Their coaches and players have faith and trust in them for good reason, because they have great players overall. Our team is experienced, but so is theirs. We have both played in big games during our seasons, but I can't think of a bigger game."
There is no bigger game. Not when rivals Michigan and Ohio State are involved. Not when the Big Ten championship is at stake, and certainly not when they're ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country.
It's the kind rivalry that creates legends and leaves participants stammering when trying to explain its meaning.
"I'm not good at verbalizing anything," Carr said. "I wish I could. I wish I could stand back and say, 'My God, look at what you're part of.' But, there's a game coming."
Maybe even two.