COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol didn't think there was anything special about rivalries - until the opening kickoff of his first game against Michigan.
``I was a freshman and Ernest Shazor knocked me into, probably, the third week of my junior year,'' he said, wincing at the thought.
Nicol's story may provide some insight as Ohio State's touted freshman quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, prepares for his first game against Michigan. A native of Jeannette, Pa., Pryor isn't steeped in the traditions and the enmity of the series. Yet.
After the Buckeyes' 30-20 win last week at Illinois, Pryor said of the Wolverines: ``I just think of them as every other team. They're just another team to me until I get into this rivalry.''
eryone on both sides talks about the weight of the hopes of former players, the pad-cracking hits and the vitriol of the opposing fans.
``The first time I experienced it, it blew my mind,'' said Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorius, a native of South Africa who grew up 8,700 miles away from the rivalry and didn't even play in that first game.
Adding kindling to the blaze, Pryor the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit last spring, chose Ohio State over Michigan.
``It's in the past,'' said Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, also participating in the rivalry for the first time. ``Once he got signed and he goes to another school, my focus is on the guy that's playing for us. And you have to do that. I don't think you can (do) hypotheticals and what-ifs. You have to say this is what reality is, and this is what we do.''
The callow 18-year-old Pryor has had a profound impact on the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten). They have won seven of eight games since he took over as the starter. They need to beat Michigan (3-8. 2-5) to clinch a tie for the Big Ten title.
Pryor was not permitted to speak with reporters this week, but head coach Jim Tressel said he has the utmost confidence that his big (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), speedy freshman is ready to be thrown, literally, to the Wolves.
he said.
His teammates feel the same way.
``He's had people talk every week about how he was going to face some new challenge,'' wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. ``I can remember his first start, his first Big Ten start, his first road game. Every time it was something new and people kept trying to throw stuff at him. He just does such a good job of preparing through the week and tuning everything out, that none of that really matters. He understands, like everyone else, that this is the biggest game on our schedule.''
But few believe you really get a feel for the rivalry until you've experienced it.
``Any athlete worth his salt is always confident, but when you're a freshman, everything is new,'' Michigan quarterback Rick Leach said. ``You can hear about the rivalry and read about it, but there's nothing like being in the game.''
Pryor's signing marked him as a celebrity in this football-mad state even before he had attended a college class.
Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee bemoans the pressure that that puts on a kid - at the same time he readily that he was calling the coaching staff last spring to check on its progress in signing Pryor.
put on the front pages of every major American newspaper. Think about the pressure it puts on him. I've been very impressed with him, but it also says something about the process.''
Pryor, who leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency, has had good games and bad. He has shown an amazing knack for avoiding a closing pocket and turning negative yards into big gains. But he has also had difficulty throwing the ball with authority more than 10 or 15 yards. At other times, he's taken sacks instead of throwing the ball away.
He has said that playing college football is ``easy.''
``I just think as you're growing up and playing football, it's just a game,'' he said a week ago. ``Football is more simple than everyone thinks. You have four downs to get a first down and every down until fourth down you have to get at least three yards or more. If you do that and you move the chains and don't turn over the ball you get a victory.''
Michigan's players are aware that Pryor could have been a teammate instead of an adversary. They have mostly said all the right things about going up against him.
``He's got awesome athleticism when he gets out of the pocket, so you have to contain him,'' linebacker Obi Ezeh said. Then he added, ``When he's back there in the pocket, he's just another quarterback.''
thing ordinary about Pryor.
``He's made a ton of plays for us and that's really the important thing,'' Nicol said. ``You don't want to think about him in maize and blue, either.''
Regardless of what colors he's wearing, he's in for a wild ride. Some rookies to the game handle it extremely well, others are traumatized by it.
``Going into your first (Michigan-Ohio State) game, you have no idea what to expect,'' Leach said. ``People can talk to you about it until they're blue in the face, but you won't know in your heart and mind what it's like to be in this game until you get one under your belt.''

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