Ohio State-Michigan series has slipped in stature

BY foxsports • November 20, 2009

By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- The Game has lost a lot of luster.

Ohio State has beaten Michigan five straight times, its best winning streak and the longest in the series since the 1920s.

The ninth-ranked Buckeyes (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) have already clinched at least a share of their fifth straight conference title and a spot in the Rose Bowl.

Michigan (5-6, 1-6) is mired in another miserable year -- coming off a school-record nine-loss season -- and is nearly a two-touchdown underdog to lose Saturday at home to guarantee consecutive losing records for the first time since 1962-63.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, though, insisted those factors haven't diminished the rivalry.

"That would never occur to the participants," Tressel said. "Perhaps to someone from the outside, someone from Utah or something, might not maybe jump on it because neither team is being talked about every day in the national scheme of things."

Michigan has stayed in the news lately for unwanted reasons.

An internal audit was released Monday in untimely fashion with details about the football program failing to file the school's forms that track how much players work out and practice. The forms are used as a tool to help comply with NCAA rules.

The office of university audits sent Rodriguez a memo on July 24 stating that forms from the 2008 regular season had not been submitted.

The Detroit Free Press, citing anonymous players, reported a month later that Michigan exceeded NCAA limits regarding practices and workouts. That triggered a school investigation and later an NCAA letter of inquiry that has the school, program and fans bracing for bad news for the once-proud program.

Rodriguez said Wednesday the process of filing forms was corrected as soon as he learned it wasn't happening, but said the investigation prevented him from further comment.

An upset against Ohio State would take some heat off Rodriguez for his on-the-field woes and would give a lot of young players some much-needed practices and upperclassmen who were recruited by Lloyd Carr a chance to experience the postseason again.

But Rodriguez said all will not be lost if Michigan loses to Ohio State -- again.

"It's not like we're going to say we're doomed without a bowl game this year," Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press in his office. "But I really want it for our seniors."

While speculation swirls about Rodriguez's future, he is confident the school will stay committed to him.

"The administration has been very supportive," Rodriguez said. "I've heard from many alumni and former players and they've all been very supportive."

One former player was anything but supportive when he left Ann Arbor.

Justin Boren played for Carr for two years, then did the unthinkable and transferred to Ohio State after Rodriguez arrived because he said "family values have eroded" in a parting shot.

"That was just like a slap in the face," Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham said.

Tressel wouldn't let Boren speak with reporters this week, but his teammates said he'll be fired up to play in the Big House in scarlet and gray.

"This is his week," Ohio State offensive tackle Jim Cordle said. "I remember when he first came here and all the talk and everything like that, and all the messages he was showing me, and then he went off to the media and said some things about Michigan.

"That's probably why he's not out here (talking to reporters) right now. But he's pumped up for this one and I know those guys are going to be going after him."

The Wolverines will be going after Terrelle Pryor, too, if their struggling defenders can catch him.

Pryor considered attending Michigan when Rodriguez left West Virginia to coach college football's winningest team, but chose to be a Buckeye.

Rodriguez acknowledged it would be difficult to prepare his defense for Pryor.

"You find a guy 6-6 that runs a 4.3," Rodriguez said. "If I had him, he probably wouldn't be on the scout team."

Ohio State seems set up to roll to another easy victory in the rivalry, perhaps like its 42-7 win against Michigan last season.

The Buckeyes have won two straight -- against Iowa and Penn State -- while the Wolverines' only win since September was against Delaware State.

Michigan's defense has been bad enough to give up at least 35 points in the last four games. Its offense will be without one of its best players, running back Brandon Minor, because of an injured shoulder.

But Tressel knows the rivalry well enough to realize the best team doesn't always win The Game.

"You have to be a little bit careful," Tressel said. "Very seldom do you go into this game and study the statistics sheet. That's just not the way it works."