Known simply as "The Game," the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is arguably the best rivalry in all of sports. For the fans of these two teams, the rivalry runs deep.
It is impossible to be neutral. You are either for the Buckeyes or for the Wolverines. There can be no middle ground.
The 105th meeting of Ohio State and Michigan will be the first for several key players, including first year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.
There has been a lot of talk in the week leading up to the game that Rodriguez didn't fully understand the rivalry and wouldn't know what to expect from it. While that may be true to some degree, I find it hard to believe that any coach could spend an entire season in Ann Arbor or Columbus and not come to understand what this game means to the players, the University, and the fans.
What makes this game so special is that the records don't matter. This season that is particularly true. It is always a tough, hard-hitting battle.
Michigan will enter the game coming off their eighth loss of the season and with a four-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. They will not be playing in a bowl game this season for the first time in 33 years. The only thing they have to play for is pride, and sometimes pride is the best motivation.
This is Ohio State-Michigan.
Ohio State will win if...
Ohio State plays solid Buckeye football.
It may sound too simple, but the Buckeyes must establish the running game and use the pass to keep the defense from stacking the box. Michigan will be geared up to stop the rushing attack of Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor.
The Buckeyes are going to have to pass the ball in this game. Terrelle Pryor's passing game has steadily improved through the course of the season, and he will need to showcase that ability against the Wolverines.
Jim Tressel has been known to have a special set of plays that are "Michigan plays." I wouldn't be surprised if these special plays included some play action and screen passes against a stacked line.
The defensive line gets pressure on Michigan's young quarterbacks.
The key to the Ohio State defensive game plan must be pressure, pressure, pressure. The Buckeyes must blitz and blitz often to keep the young quarterbacks off balance.
Ohio State has done a good job this season of forcing turnovers, and Michigan has been turnover prone all season long. If the Buckeyes can get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make quick decisions, it will be very difficult for the Wolverines to win this game.
Ohio State shuts down the Michigan running backs and forces the ball into the air.
If the Buckeyes can slow down Brandon Minor and Sam McGuffie and force Nick Sheridan to throw the ball (Steven Threet is listed as doubtful for the game), it will be a long day for the Blue.
Ohio State will lose if...
Michigan can play mistake-free and force Ohio State turnovers.
Again, it may be obvious, but Michigan will have to play as close to a perfect game as possible to pull off the upset. That means no turnovers for the Wolverines and forcing turnovers from the Buckeyes, winning the field position game, and making plays on special teams. If the Wolverines can do all of those things, they have a chance.
The defense must contain Terrelle Pryor.
The freshman had his best rushing game of the season last week against the Illini, rushing for 110 yards. If he has another game like that, the Wolverines don't stand a chance. The defense must contain the freshman and keep him guessing all game long.
Tackling will be key.
The Buckeyes have made a living on yards after contact this season. Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor will not be brought down on arm tackles. The Wolverines must wrap up and have sure tackling technique.
Both Wells and Pryor have the ability to turn a loss into a big gain, and if the Wolverines struggle in bringing down the big guys, they will run right through them.
It's the Ohio State-Michigan game. Anything can happen.
Jim Tressel places too much importance on this game for the Buckeyes to come in overconfident, but they must be ready for anything and everything that Michigan throws at them.
The Wolverines have nothing to lose. They will pull out all the stops to try to steal the victory. The Buckeyes must be prepared and play smart, sound, fundamental football.
Since 1937, the lower-ranked school has won 21 times, but only eight times has an unranked team knocked off its ranked opponent. The last year that happened was 2004, when Ohio State stunned then-No. 7 Michigan 37-21 in Columbus.
Jim Tressel vs. Rich Rodriguez
It's the first-ever meeting between these two coaches, and history is on the side of Rodriguez.
In the history of the series, only one first-year Michigan coach (Harry Kipke in 1929) has failed to beat the Buckeyes on their first try. Michigan faithful everywhere are hoping Rodriguez won't pull a Kipke.
Michigan hasn't won in Columbus since 2000, and the last time Michigan won a game in this series was in Ann Arbor in 2003.
The Buckeyes are 20.5-point favorites (as of Tuesday), which is the largest point spread in the history of The Game.
A victory over the Wolverines would give the Buckeyes a share of their fourth straight Big Ten title and would move the Buckeyes into first place in the all-time Big Ten football standings. A win would move the Buckeyes to 72.283 percent to the Wolverines' 72.282 percent.
A win would also be the first time in Ohio State history that the Buckeyes will have beat the Wolverines in five straight attempts.
The Buckeyes have a lot to play for. Records, streaks, and championships are great motivation. But Jim Tressel said it best in his press conference after the victory against Illinois.
"Ohio State versus Michigan trumps everything," Tressel said. "It trumps all things because it's the Ohio State-Michigan game."
Ohio State 38, Michigan 17
For the Michigan perspective, check out Nino Colla's article.