There is a lot on th e line for the Buckeyes this week.
Ohio State is playing for a sixth straight Big Ten championship, a much-coveted BCS bowl bid, and what could potentially be a return trip to the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes enter the final game of the 2010 season locked in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten.
But listen to the Ohio State players and their coach, Jim Tressel, and you get the distinct impression that none of that stuff really matters -- at least not this week. This is Michigan week, and the world begins and ends with that.
"You're defined by your Ohio State-Michigan games," Tressel said as his Buckeyes prepared to meet Michigan for the 107th time in one of sports' greatest rivalries.
"Certainly, whether they're on their way to winning championships or not winning championships, or going to BCS bowl games or not going to BCS bowl games, the Ohio State-Michigan game has a compartment of its own. That is what you need to be most aware of."
Ohio State has won the past six games in this storied series, but it has been an incredibly competitive matchup over the long haul. In the past 84 games between Ohio State and Michigan, the series is tied 40-40-4. The Buckeyes have a full awareness of just how important this game is, every year, regardless of where the teams stand in the Big Ten or nationally.
Ohio State senior linebacker Brian Rolle, a native of Florida, said he quickly learned that the Michigan game carries a special place of prominence.
"We know there's always pressure to beat Michigan, just because it's 'The Game' here, regardless of what the streak is or what our records are or what we're playing for," Rolle said. "You lose this game, and everything else doesn't matter."
There will be one more game for Rolle and the other Ohio State seniors, but that is against an opponent yet-to-be-determined at a date off in the future and a place far from Columbus. All that matters right now is Michigan.
--WR Dane Sanzenbacher leads the Buckeyes and is second in the Big Ten with nine touchdown catches. The senior has 49 receptions for 818 yards.
--QB Terrelle Pryor is 29-4 as the starter for the Buckeyes.
--Ohio State's 24-member senior class takes a 42-8 four-year record into the season finale against Michigan. The group owns a 3-0 record against Michigan and has won three Big Ten titles.
--A victory over Michigan would give Ohio State a record-tying sixth straight Big Ten championship, and likely a BCS bowl berth.
--LB Brian Rolle earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors for his 10-tackle performance against Iowa in the Buckeyes' critical road win over the Hawkeyes. Rolle will play a crucial role in Ohio State's run defense against Michigan.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Ohio State 57-43-6 (last meeting, 2009, 21-10 Ohio State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes will find success if QB Terrelle Pryor finds the end zone. Ohio State is 15-1 in games when Pryor has a rushing touchdown, and 26-1 when he throws a touchdown pass. TB Dan Herron has been running strong to keep defenses from focusing on Pryor, while WR Dane Sanzenbacher gives Pryor as sure-handed an option as there is in the conference.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Buckeyes are third in the nation in total defense, allowing just 241 yards per game, and if their defense can effectively corral Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Ohio State can maintain that ranking. Stopping Robinson from breaking big plays will be the assignment for Ohio State linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Who knows who's going to be the outright champs or whatever? I think everyone knows what's most important is Ohio State-Michigan. It's not the Big Ten thing." -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on keeping the focus on Michigan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 27 -- The Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) are playing for a sixth straight Big Ten title and a seventh straight win in this storied rivalry. Ohio State is also in position to land a BCS bowl berth with another win over Michigan.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Buckeyes have 11 games' worth of film on Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and how Ohio State plans to limit his impact will be a critical element in this game. The Buckeyes also need to exploit Michigan's wobbly defense on nearly every possession so the Wolverines are constantly playing catch-up.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB Dan "Boom" Herron -- The junior is third among Big Ten running backs with 100.1 yards per conference game. If Herron is moving the chains, the Buckeyes are likely to be in control of the game throughout.
QB Terrelle Pryor -- The junior keeps winning with his arm and his legs. Pryor had a critical run for a first down on a fourth-down play late in the win at Iowa, and then threw a strike to WR Dane Sanzenbacher for 24 yards down to the 2. Pryor needs just 67 yards to become Ohio State's all-time rushing leader for quarterbacks.
CB Chimdi Chekwa -- The senior from Florida is a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive back. Chekwa, who has three interceptions this season, will be a vital part of Ohio State's pass defense against Michigan.
WR Dane Sanzenbacher -- The senior captain is the most reliable pass-catcher for the Buckeyes, with 49 receptions for 818 yards.
--WR Corey "Philly" Brown had to be helped off the field at Iowa after he was poked in the eye during a collision with a defender on a deep pass. Brown is expected to play against Michigan.
--LB Dorian Bell, who missed a month with a concussion, returned to the field two weeks ago and has been an important part of Ohio State's improving special teams play.
--DB Christian Bryant continues to recover from surgery that was required to clean out a persistent infection in his foot. Ohio State hopes to have the freshman available for its bowl game.
--DB Donnie Evege, who missed the majority of the season with a dislocated elbow, is expected to take part in special teams play against Michigan.
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