COLUMBUS, Ohio — How big is the biggest Big Game?
"About as big as it gets," former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler said about the epic college football game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan on Saturday. "I see this game as being a great classic."
If former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes were still around, he'd likely agree. If this game were any bigger, it would have Roman numerals after it or a crystal national-championship trophy waiting for the winner.
"It has the makings of one of the greatest games ever, a national-championship flavor," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.
Even if the game itself isn't as thrilling as the enormous buildup, it doesn't matter, given what awaits the winner: a Big Ten title and a trip to the national-championship game on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz. Always the final game of the regular season for both teams, this is also their last chance to build their résumés. The loser, if the game is close and well played, could retain enough support in the Bowl Championship Series standings to land a Jan. 8 rematch, though it more likely will head to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl — not a bad consolation prize.
It's the 103rd meeting between the teams, but the first time the game has featured teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the major polls.
"To have this be the first time in over a century that both teams are ranked 1-2, it may be a long time before it happens again," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "It's a dream to not only to coach in this rivalry, but to be able to play in a game like this certainly is very, very special."
The rivalry is one of the sport's best because of its impact on the Big Ten title seemingly every season, and its sheer competitiveness — during the past 50 years, the series record is 24-24-2. For the first time since 1973, both teams enter the game with perfect records.
In Columbus and Ann Arbor, Mich., they must be running out of hyperbole by now, along with face paint and anything scarlet and gray or maize and blue.
"Well, it's finally here, what you've been talking about for six weeks," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "The whole world watching two outstanding football teams."
Along one wall of the Buckeyes' practice facility this week is a large sign that reads: "BEAT MICHIGAN." As if anyone needs a reminder.
"I have to remind myself not to think about that at times," said Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock. "Lying in bed trying to sleep, that's all you think about. Maybe NyQuil will help."
Few rivalries in college football can match the storied tradition of this one. The teams have produced Hall of Fame coaches like Schembechler and Hayes, 18 national titles, 72 Big Ten titles and nine Heisman Trophies. Then consider the aura of the 100,000-plus-seat stadiums nicknamed the Horseshoe and the Big House, the singing of "The Victors" and "Carmen Ohio," dotting the "i" in the marching band's famous script Ohio formation, the buckeye leaves on Ohio State helmets and the winged helmets of Michigan.
If Ohio State wins, this will be the first Buckeyes team to go from start to finish in the regular season ranked No. 1. A victory also would give the Buckeyes a shot at their second national title in four years. With a win, the Buckeyes would have their second victory against a No. 2 team in the same season. No top-ranked team has done that in 61 years. On Sept. 9, Ohio State defeated then-No. 2 Texas 24-7.
A Heisman Trophy is also on the line. If Troy Smith performs well, the Buckeyes quarterback is expected to win the sport's most coveted individual award.
"That's probably the last thing in my world right now," Smith said.
Another big game against the Wolverines will only add to his legacy. In both 2004 and 2005, Smith led the Buckeyes to comeback victories against the Wolverines with two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
|One versus two|
|Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game marks only the fourth time the top two ranked teams in the AP poll have met in the regular season since 1991:|
|Sept. 9, 2006
||No.1 Ohio St. 24, No.2 Texas 7|
|Nov. 30, 1996
||No.2 Florida St. 24, No.1 Florida 21|
|Nov. 16, 1991
||No.2 Miami 17, No.1 Florida St. 16|