- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ohio State players understand the big-picture implications at stake this week.
A record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten championship (35th overall)
A fourth 11-win season in the past five years and a sixth under coach Jim Tressel
A possible trip to the Rose Bowl or, at the very least, another BCS game
But the Buckeyes are always more cognizant of the small picture, which, during Tressel's tenure, is the big picture.
Tressel has been absolutely masterful in his handling of The Game. The Vest boasts an 8-1 record against the Wolverines and has led Ohio State to six consecutive victories in the series. But his hallmark is the way he plays up the game to his players.
"The Michigan thing, it's always on our mind, even since camp, when we have our Maize and Blue period," Ohio State center Mike Brewster said. "That's always very important to us."
Growing up in Florida, Brewster had a "little bit of an idea" about the significance behind The Game, but he didn't gain a full appreciation for all it meant until he arrived in Columbus.
"After you get that first win, you really realize how much it means to the coaches, to the fans," he said. "The biggest thing for me is getting those gold pants and giving them to my mom. It's always a special thing I get to do for her.
"It's definitely one of the coolest things about playing here."
Michigan players would agree with the last part, although from their perspective, the recent results haven't been cool at all.
No current Wolverines player knows what it's like to beat the hated Buckeyes. According to Las Vegas and most prognosticators, they'll have to wait for at least another year.
The Wolverines are once again heavy underdogs as they head to Columbus, a place they haven't won in a decade.
"It's not really a rivalry when one team wins every year," Michigan senior guard Stephen Schilling said Monday.
But it's still a rivalry, no doubt.
"They hate us, we hate them," Michigan star nose tackle Mike Martin said. "That's how it is and what it is. That's what makes it so special."
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is winless against the Wolverines' top two rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State, and his job status once again has come up entering Ohio State week. First-year athletic director Dave Brandon has been supportive of Rodriguez to this point but hasn't truly showed his hand regarding 2011 and beyond.
Although Michigan is assured of a winning season and a bowl appearance for the first time in three years, Rodriguez still needs to show his teams can compete with the Big Ten's elite. Under Rodriguez, Michigan has yet to beat a team that finished the season with a winning record in Big Ten play.
"I didn't get this job in Michigan by getting a lottery ticket that said, 'Congratulations you're the coach of Michigan,'" Rodriguez said Monday. "We didn't get stupid overnight and all that when we lost a few games."
Tressel has won quite a few games at Ohio State, but he makes no secret about which ones mean the most to him.
"You're defined by your Ohio State-Michigan games," he said Monday.
Brewster and his teammates want to continue to be defined as winners.
"It's an accomplishment to say you played four or five years at Ohio State and never lost to Michigan," he said. "That'll always be a big one."