For All The Marbles

Michigan and Ohio State have met on the final Saturday of the Big Ten season every year since 1935, so for the past 73 years there's been no need to look ahead on the schedule.

It's possible, however, that the Buckeyes and Wolverines may have done just that.

For the first time since 1959 - the last time both schools had losing records - the seventh-ranked Buckeyes and No. 23 Wolverines will meet Saturday with both programs coming off losses as they battle in Ann Arbor for the Big Ten title.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Ohio State -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 79% of bets for this game have been placed on Ohio State -3 (View College Football bet percentages).

This will mark the 25th time the schools have decided the Big Ten champion, but with each stumbling into the annual showdown, the luster has faded somewhat for this chapter of one of college football's biggest rivalries.

A berth in the Rose Bowl, however, is still there for the taking.

Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) had its sights set on a bigger goal than just reaching Pasadena for college football's oldest postseason game. The Buckeyes went undefeated in the regular season in 2006 and made it to the BCS title game, only to be crushed 41-14 by Florida.

Expected to face a rebuilding year following the loss of some key seniors and underclassmen to the NFL, Jim Tressel's team instead won its first 10 games and held the top spot in the BCS standings before hosting Illinois last week.

Juice Williams and the Illini, though, ran over Ohio State's third-ranked rush defense for 260 yards, and the Buckeyes' dreams of redeeming themselves in another BCS championship game stunningly disappeared with a 28-21 upset.

"Nobody expected it to be like this, but it's just part of football," Ohio State fullback Dionte Johnson said. "Everybody can't be hanging their heads. We've just got to press on."

The loss to Illinois ended the Buckeyes' streak of 20 straight conference wins, a Big Ten record. It was their first defeat in 29 regular season games, dating to an October 2005 loss at Penn State.

What made the loss even tougher for Ohio State was not being able to send its seniors out on a winning note in their last home game. If they can go into the Big House and beat the Wolverines, however, those seniors will have done something even more memorable - go 4-0 against Michigan.

"After losing on Saturday, we all apologized to the seniors," Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "Now, this is the Michigan game and it is make or break. ...You come to Ohio State to play against Michigan."

The Buckeyes last won four straight over Michigan from 1960-1963, when Woody Hayes roamed the sidelines in Columbus. He led the school to five national championships during his 28-year run as coach, but even the legendary Hayes didn't have Jim Tressel's winning percentage against Michigan. Tressel is 5-1 versus the Wolverines since taking over in 2001, including two victories in Ann Arbor.

"(The atmosphere at Michigan) is loud, you can feel the electricity in the air," Tressel said. "The first time I was ever a part of the Ohio State-Michigan game was in '83, as an assistant coach, and, shoot, I can't tell you anything that happened in the first quarter. ... I was just taken by the electricity."

Michigan (8-3, 6-1) didn't have nearly as much to lose as Ohio State did last week, but the Wolverines looked at times like they had the Buckeyes on their minds during a 37-21 defeat at Wisconsin.

Ranked fifth in the Preseason Top 25, Michigan's national title hopes disappeared with home losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. The Wolverines, though, rebounded to win their next eight games before losing in Madison.

"Like my dad told me one day after I got beat up, you got to go back on that playground, and you've got to fight," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who could be in his final season with the Wolverines. "I'm very proud of the way this team has fought and competed. And they've put themselves into a position where they're not only playing for the greatest rivalry in sport, they're playing for a championship. They're playing for the Rose Bowl."

The Wolverines are unsure if they'll have two of their senior leaders in the lineup Saturday. Quarterback Chad Henne suffered a shoulder injury against Oregon, and although he has played in eight of his team's 11 games, was pulled against Wisconsin because of the injury. His status is uncertain.

While freshman Ryan Mallett has thrown for 884 yards and seven touchdowns in relief of Henne this season, the bigger problem for Michigan may be tailback Mike Hart's nagging ankle injury. Hart, thought by many to be the Heisman Trophy front -runner midway through the season, has sat out three of Michigan's last four games, including the loss to Wisconsin. He is questionable for Saturday, according to Carr.

"I think our guys have fought through a lot of issues, particularly on the injury front," Carr said. "We've had a lot of different guys in the course of this season step in and fill the breach and compete and do the things that would help us to win."

Regardless of who lines up in the backfield, running on Ohio State's defense isn't likely to be easy. Though they couldn't stop Illinois on the ground, the Buckeyes gave up a combined 120 rushing yards to Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern. They lead the nation in scoring defense at 11.4 points allowed per game and are second in pass defense (154.7 yards a game) and total defense (237.5).

"They have a great defensive line and great linebackers," Michigan senior tackle Jake Long said. "With (linebacker) James Laurinaitis back there, they fly around and they can run fast. They're all physical, big, and a great defense."

Michigan leads the series with Ohio State 57-40-6 and 30-18-4 in Ann Arbor. Carr is 6-6 against the Buckeyes.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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