Michigan-Ohio St. Preview

Each year, the players and coaches from Michigan and Ohio State
talk about how much they respect each other, how much they have in
common and how pure their rivalry is.

Truth be told, the two sides can’t even agree on who’s got the
most to win and lose in Saturday’s 107th showdown.

No. 8 Ohio State has a stadium full of things on the line,
including a share of a record-tying sixth straight Big Ten title
and a spot in a Bowl Championship Series bowl.

The Buckeyes say the Wolverines would like nothing better than
to ruin all of that for them.

”Just beating us would make those guys’ year,” Ohio State
linebacker Brian Rolle said Monday. ”That’d be like a national
championship for those guys.”

But that’s not even remotely close to being the case, Michigan
nose tackle Mike Martin said.

”For us, it’s not about Ohio State – it’s about us and what we
do,” he said. ”We don’t go into this game to spoil Ohio State’s
season. It’s all about us. We’re playing for each other and doing
what we can and what we can control.”

Despite everything resting on the outcome – and its impact on
untold other teams – the bottom line for both sides is that they
just plain don’t like losing to the other guys.

And that’s motivation enough.

”To say that they have more at stake than us, when you look at
it from bowl perspective and Big Ten championship – sure,”
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said on Monday. ”To say it’s less
important, no. Never.”

The Buckeyes enter the storied grudge match needing a win to
match the mark of six straight conference titles won by Woody
Hayes’ Ohio State teams of 1972-77. Heading into the final weekend
of conference play, the Buckeyes are in lockstep with Michigan
State and Wisconsin, with all three teams 10-1 overall and 6-1 in
the Big Ten.

Win, and Ohio State would likely be in the running for a BCS
berth – either a return trip to the Rose Bowl, should Wisconsin
lose at home to Northwestern, or possibly an at-large bid to the
Sugar or Orange bowls.

Lose and the Buckeyes could sag all the way to third in the
conference and would end up out of the BCS mix for the first time
since 2004.

The Buckeyes are also hoping to add to their mastery of their
chief rivals. They’ve won the last six meetings, their longest
string of success ever in the series.

Some fans say that ”The Game” has lost some of its luster in
recent years because of the Buckeyes’ domination. They say that for
it to remain a true rivalry, one team can’t win every time.

But the alternative is almost unthinkable to Ohio State.

”Already it means so much to us that we don’t need to lose a
game to remember how bad it hurts,” said defensive lineman Dexter
Larimore.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4) is heading to a bowl game for the first time
in Rodriguez’s three years in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, led by
multi-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, are hoping for a victory
to prove they’ve climbed out of the dark hole they were in the past
couple of years and are headed for a brighter future.

A signature win couldn’t come against anyone better than the
Buckeyes.

”I’ve got respect for them,” Robinson said. ”But I don’t like
them.”

The feeling is mutual. Ohio State has no other major rival
besides Michigan. But the Wolverines also circle Michigan State and
Notre Dame on their calendars each season.

So this is a special week for players and fans to embrace their
dislike of the other team.

”I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them either because of the
rivalry,” Ohio State cornerback Devon Torrence said. ”Michigan is
a great university and institution for college and college
football. They do a lot in terms of the whole college football
spectrum.

”I won’t say I hate them – but I really want to beat
them.”