Rivals rumble in the Big House: OSU-UM a make-or-break game
Two powerhouses and arch-rivals who gave gained momentum collide today in Ann Arbor.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Don't tell Santonio Holmes the Ohio State-Michigan matchup is just a game.
"This is what you live and die for," the Buckeyes' standout receiver said. "You want to be in the biggest rivalry. You want to be in the spotlight. And you don't want to be on the losing end."
One team will have its season made, the other broken, when No. 9 Ohio State plays the No. 17 Wolverines today in one of college football's great rivalries before about 112,000 fans at Michigan Stadium.
Even Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, not known for spouting hyperbole, acknowledged it was a make-or-break game. Ohio State safety Nate Salley agreed, sharing an assessment to which players on both sides could relate.
"When you come here, you have to understand what you're getting yourself into," Salley said. "That makes it fair."
Tressel 3-1 vs. Carr
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who assured fans they would be proud of the Buckeyes against Michigan when he was hired in 2001, is 3-1 against Carr.
Ohio State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) and Michigan (7-3, 5-2) have gained momentum after their national championship hopes were dashed early in the season. The Buckeyes have won five in a row following a 3-2 start. The Wolverines have four straight victories after sputtering to a .500 record through six games.
"They're rolling, and we're kind of rolling right now," Salley said. "I don't think either team would have it any other way."
The winning streaks will be all but forgotten by the loser -- and its fans -- of the 102nd installment of the rivalry.
If Ohio State wins, it will clinch a share of the Big Ten title and will claim the championship outright if Penn State loses at Michigan State.
If Michigan wins, it needs help from a bitter rival 65 miles away, to forge a three-way tie with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions. In that scenario, the Wolverines would earn the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid because they would have beaten Ohio State and Penn State.
"I don't want to talk about that too much. I just want to worry about Ohio State," Michigan fullback Brian Thompson said. "But, yeah, we'll be rooting for Michigan State."
To have any chance of winning, Michigan will have to do a much better job of slowing quarterback Troy Smith. Smith ran for 145 yards and a touchdown and threw for 241 yards and two more scores in last year's 37-21 win over the Wolverines.
After Michigan's defense was embarrassed again in its next game -- by Texas' Vince Young in the Rose Bowl -- the Wolverines were determined to do a better job against mobile quarterbacks.
The Wolverines fared better this year against Penn State's Michael Robinson and Michigan State's Drew Stanton, but they said Smith will provide their toughest test.
"He's similar, but out of all of them, I think he's the best athlete," Michigan defensive tackle Pat Massey said, "and he's going to be the one who wants to run it the most."
Plenty of options
With running back Antonio Pittman and receivers Holmes and Ted Ginn, Smith has plenty of options when he doesn't choose to run.
The Game is often decided on special teams, and both teams have game-breakers -- Ginn and Michigan's Steve Breaston.
Michigan expects to get a boost with the return of perhaps its most valuable player, running back Mike Hart. He hasn't played since Oct. 22 at Iowa because of a sprained ankle after being slowed earlier in the year by another injury. In the four games Hart has played extensively, he has rushed for at least 100 yards while providing an emotional boost no other Wolverine seems to match.