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TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
In the case of the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, you can dispense with the stories, the plays and the great games that have been as much a part of the Rose Bowl as the New Year's Day parade. You can dispense with the 1 vs. 2 rankings, the unblemished records for only the third time in 103 meetings, even with the prize of a place in the BCS Championship Game that awaits the winner.
"I'll tell you how big this game is," former Ohio State coach John Cooper said Wednesday on a Master Coaches Survey teleconference. "The loser is going to the Rose Bowl."
Woody Hayes always focused on Michigan.
All well and good, but all you need to know is this: Everything you have ever heard about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is true.
• It is true that the late Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who did more to pump up the negative feelings in the rivalry than any man, refused to fill up his car in the state of Michigan.
"I'll tell you why we don't," Hayes said, according to the seminal book, "Woody Hayes and the 100-Yard War." "It's because I don't buy one goddam drop of gas in the state of Michigan. We'll coast and push this goddam car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!"
• It is true that Michigan, leading 55-0 late in the 1946 game, lined up and kicked a field goal.
• It is true that in 1950, the teams played through a blizzard with 29 inches of snow and more than 50,000 fans sat through it. Michigan's Chuck Ortmann punted 24 times, and the Wolverines won 9-3, despite failing to make a first down. Buckeyes coach Wes Fesler quit a few days later. Ohio State hired the little-known Hayes away from Miami (Ohio).
• It is true that in 1970, a local judge in Columbus dismissed a charge of obscenity against a defendant arrested for wearing a T-shirt that said, "F--- Michigan" because the message "accurately expressed" local feelings about the university and the state.
• It is true that Hayes sometimes bunked his team in Toledo on the night before a game in Ann Arbor so the Buckeyes could sleep on Ohio ground.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- By now, you have to figure Lloyd Carr flinches at the sight of a scarlet and gray sweater-vest. Four losses in five years to Jim Tressel, in a game inflated like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float, can do that to a guy.
But Tressel is only the guy Carr has to deal with in those gut-churning postgame handshakes. He's not the three-hour heartburn that precedes the two-second handshake.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Troy Smith rushed for 145 yards against Michigan in 2004.
The guy making the plays that have deepened Carr's worry lines into crevasses the past two years is not Jim Tressel. If there's a single Ohio State player who has roamed freely through the Michigan coach's nightmares the past two years, it has to be Troy Smith.
The Ohio State quarterback has had a tremendous career by any measurement: 24-2 as a starter, winner of 18 straight, front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. But in the game that measures largest on any scale, he's stepped up from great to unstoppable.
The first time Smith ran for 100 yards in a college game, it was against Michigan in 2004. Score: Buckeyes 37, Wolverines 21.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- What's striking about the Michigan defense is not the way it has become the best run defense in nearly 50 years, or how at least three starters have a good chance of shaking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's hand as first-round picks next April.
It's the way that knowledgeable football people talk about the Wolverines.
Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE
LaMarr Woodley is Michigan's defensive leader.
"You'll be impressed with Michigan," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said, unprompted.
"They've got a defensive line that we'd all like to have," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.
You hear coaches and analysts speak of athleticism -- not a word often utilized to describe a front seven. But the defense that has led Michigan to an 11-0 record and a No. 2 ranking, the defense charged with the responsibility of slowing down Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith on Saturday, is big and fast.
Defensive end LaMarr Woodley is the leader of a line so talented and deep that it has 25 of the team's 40 sacks. Blitzes? Who needs blitzes to pressure the quarterback?
SPECIAL TEAMS SPOTLIGHT
The irony that accompanies the one uncommon talent they have in common is as cruel as it is indisputable.
Although Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. and Michigan's Steve Breaston have been blessed with speed that is at once audacious, bodacious and outrageous, the simple truth is this:
Jeff Mills/Icon SMI
Jim Tressel thinks Ginn has become a complete receiver this season.
Neither of them has ever been able to outrun expectations.
Oh, sure, each enters the mammoth Saturday matchup (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) of Ginn's No. 1 Buckeyes vs. Breaston's No. 2 Wolverines with an extensive résumé and a bulging highlight reel.
But for both of them, the close of their final college season (yes, Ginn is a junior, but he is gone to the NFL as sure as the sunrise) could be about leaving a final indelible impression that will at last satisfy those previously left wanting more.