COLUMBUS, Ohio - No longer do the players have to watch what they say. There are no other teams left on the schedule.
No. 2 Michigan, meet No. 1 Ohio State.
A spot in the national championship game, an outright Big Ten title, a perfect season — and certainly not least of all, a year of bragging rights for rabid fans — await the winner of the annual grudge match Saturday in packed Ohio Stadium.
“It’s something we can’t wait to be a part of,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Saturday after his team dispatched Northwestern 54-10 to set the table for the 103rd meeting in one of college football’s most storied rivalries.
It’ll be the second time this season Ohio State has played in a 1 vs. 2 game, and mark the first time since The Associated Press started ranking teams in the preseason in 1950 that Nos. 1 and 2 will meet twice in the regular season.
It happened twice in the 1940s, the last time in 1945 when Army was No. 1 when it played No. 2 Navy and No. 2 Notre Dame.
Ohio State (11-0) beat No. 2 Texas on Sept. 9, and has hardly been tested since. Michigan (11-0) has also been cruising since its big win a week later over Notre Dame.
“You couldn’t really script it any better,” Wolverines cornerback Leon Hall said after Michigan’s 34-3 rout of Indiana on Saturday.
Like a bad slasher movie, this is the ending that everyone has anticipated.
It’ll be only the third time both Ohio State and Michigan have been perfect since “The Game” became the regular-season finale for the teams in 1935.
“It’s bigger than the things I’ve known. I’m actually part of it. It really blows my mind,” said Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who might also have a Heisman Trophy riding on the outcome.
In 1973, the last time both were unbeaten, the teams tied 10-10. In those days only one conference team got to go to a bowl game, so the Big Ten’s athletic directors voted to decide which team got to go to the Rose Bowl. It was Ohio State.
The winner won’t be decided in a smoky hotel room this year.
“It’s going to be another great Ohio State-Michigan game,” he said. “It will be an exciting week.”
For several games, both teams have had to focus, focus, focus on lesser opponents. Now there’s a sense of relief that the task is finally at hand.
“It’s going to be a big one, probably the biggest game I ever play in my whole football career,” Ohio State tailback Antonio Pittman said. “It’s always one game at a time, one week at a time, and now the week is here so we’ll think about it a lot now.”
“If you’re not motivated for this game, then I don’t know what you’re motivated for,” said Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.
Ohio State has won each of its games by at least 17 points, except for a narrow 17-10 win at Illinois on Nov. 4.
After that game, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez said he was surprised how teams had gone away quietly before the Buckeyes.
That certainly won’t be the case on Saturday, for either team. For a change, they’ll be staring eye-to-eye with an equal.
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