|CFB: #2 Michigan at #1 Ohio St.|
|Written by TheSpread|
|Saturday, 18 November 2006 08:00|
College Football Game of The Year; #2 Michigan at #1 Ohio State
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With a berth in the BCS title game at stake, Saturday's contest at Ohio Stadium between No. 1 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) and No. 2 Michigan (11-0, 7-0) might just be the biggest in the history of a rivalry that rates among the most heated in the nation.
``It's a tremendous feeling,'' said Jim Tressel, 4-1 against the Wolverines since becoming Ohio State's coach in 2001. ``You can feel the electricity and the energy.''
And with good reason. For the first time in the 103-year history of the series, the teams are ranked 1-2 in the Top 25. It's only the third time since 1935 that the schools will meet with perfect records.
The winner not only gets to celebrate a Big Ten title, but can book a spot in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8, 2007, in Glendale, Ariz.
Since 1950, the Buckeyes and Wolverines have each won 27 meetings, with two ties. Ohio State and Michigan have won or shared the last five Big Ten titles.
``We've played this game now, Michigan vs. Ohio State, for 102 years,'' said Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr, who is 6-5 against Ohio State. ``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 certainly is very, very special.''
While Ohio State tops the BCS standings, Michigan isn't far back - and actually leads the computer rankings. Since Tressel took over, however, the Wolverines have consistently come up short against the Buckeyes. After winning 10 of 13 from 1988-2000, Michigan's only victory against Tressel came in 2003.
Tressel, who made beating the Wolverines a priority when he was hired, downplayed his record against the Buckeyes' most-hated rival.
``It has nothing to do with 2006, that's the biggest feeling,'' said Tressel, whose squad has won 18 straight games, the longest streak in the nation.
Ohio State has won the last two meetings in Columbus, including a 14-9 victory in 2002 that sent the Buckeyes to the BCS title game, where they upset Miami 31-24 in double overtime.
The Buckeyes have Heisman Trophy front-runner Troy Smith starting at quarterback, with plenty of weapons surrounding him at the other skill positions. While Michigan's offense doesn't get nearly as much attention, the Wolverines have been just as impressive, relying on the power running of Mike Hart, the passing of Chad Henne and the receiving of Mario Manningham.
Throw in a pair of defensive units that rank among the nation's best - Michigan is third in the country in total defense, Ohio State eighth - and the teams are about as evenly matched as can be. That's creating plenty of hype for what might be the most anticipated regular season game in 10 years, when No. 2 Florida State beat No. 1 Florida 24-21 on Nov. 30, 1996.
Those teams ended up playing a rematch in the Sugar Bowl - won by Florida 52-20 - to decide the national championship. While a rematch for the title is a possibility this year, neither the Buckeyes nor the Wolverines feel like taking their chances with a loss.
Ohio State - ranked first all season - has already played a 1-2 game this year, beating No. 2 Texas 24-7 on Sept. 9. The Buckeyes feel confident they can knock off another No. 2 behind Smith, who's thrown 26 touchdowns to only four interceptions and posted a Big Ten-best passer rating of 168.7.
He's 24-2 as a starter, including 2-0 against the Wolverines. Two years ago, Smith threw two touchdown passes and ran for 145 yards and a touchdown as Ohio State won 37-21. Last year, he was 27-of-37 for 300 yards and a touchdown to rally the Buckeyes from a nine-point deficit in a 25-21 win at Michigan Stadium.
``He wants to have the ball in his hands, he wants to make a difference,'' Tressel said. ``He cares so deeply for his teammates and he wants something good to happen for them.''
Michigan's difference-maker, Hart, had only nine carries for 15 yards in last year's loss. He was sidelined four games with injuries in 2005 and banged up in several others, and the Wolverines sputtered, finishing 7-5 and dropping their final two games to Ohio State and Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. It was the second year in a row Michigan closed a season with defeats to the Buckeyes and in a bowl game.
Hart has bounced back from the injuries to rush for 1,373 yards and 11 touchdowns, ranking sixth in the country with 125 rushing yards per game. That effort has helped fuel the Wolverines' turnaround season, silencing the critics that were targeting Carr for much of the offseason.
``When you had the type of season we had, you're either going to back down and you're going to continue that trend, or you're going get up and fight,'' said Carr, who won a national championship in 1997. ``I don't think there's any question that it motivated all of us, and that's what it should have done.''
Needless to say, motivation shouldn't be a problem for either team Saturday.
``It's going to be the biggest game of probably everybody's life on this team,'' Hart said. ``We're undefeated, they're undefeated, we're playing for a Big Ten championship and a chance to go to the national championship, so I don't think there's a bigger game out there.''
Michigan is 27-21-2 in Columbus and leads the series 57-39-6.
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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