Underdog Role No Concern For Buckeyes

For the first time since 2004, the Ohio State football team is the underdog heading into its annual game against archrival Michigan. That fact is not bringing down the Buckeyes' spirits, however, as they hope to ruin Michigan's impressive season and salvage their own.

The Ohio State football team finds itself in an unusual position heading into its game Saturday in Ann Arbor: an underdog to archrival Michigan.

Depending on where you look, the Buckeyes are between a 7½-to-8½-point underdog to the Wolverines. While the 2011 season has been difficult for Ohio State, a team that has sputtered to a 6-5 record after a tumultuous offseason, Michigan has seemingly found its way under first-year head coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines boast a 9-2 record and plenty of momentum heading into this year's edition of The Game.

Still, Ohio State coaches and players did not sound overly concerned about not being favored against U-M for the first time since 2004.

"We can only control what we can control," senior linebacker Andrew Sweat said. "That's what everyone else says. We're just going to prepare extremely hard this week and go into this game.

"It's the greatest rivalry in sports, and we're excited to play in it."

No one on Ohio State's sideline will have been a part of more OSU-Michigan games than defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. The longtime assistant coach will face the Wolverines for the 16th time as a member of OSU's coaching staff. He knows that records don't matter when the teams take the field.

"Past doesn't mean a whole lot," Heacock said. "It's just who is going to perform from the kickoff to the end of the game, who is going to perform on the field. Not so much who talks about it, but who gets it done."

Heacock is not the only OSU coach with a unique perspective of the rivalry. Head coach Luke Fickell was a defensive lineman for the Buckeyes from 1993-96 and was on the losing end of Michigan games in three of the four games he played in. He knows underdogs can jump up and bite favorites. That's what happened to Fickell and the then-unbeaten Buckeyes in 1993, 1995 and 1996.

"Obviously when I was in school, I was on the opposite side of some of those, so to speak, underdog upsets," Fickell said. "But it still comes down to the passion of the game, the will for the game, and that will be defined on Saturday."

The Buckeyes got it done more often than not against Michigan under former head coach Jim Tressel. Ohio State posted a 9-1 record in The Game during Tressel's 10 seasons at the helm, losing only the 2003 meeting. The seven-game winning streak Ohio State currently boasts in the series also means that every player on the Buckeyes' roster has never tasted defeat against Michigan.

That fact is not lost among Buckeye seniors.

"You don't want to be the ones to break the streak," Brewster said. "You don't want to be that team. ... I've already been on the team that's not going to win the Big Ten championship for the first time in quite a while. If I can do anything to make this season right, it would be good to go ahead and continue the streak."

A win against Michigan, who has a chance to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid with a victory on Saturday, could go a long way to making the difficulties the Buckeyes have dealt with since the tattoos/money for memorabilia scandal broke nearly a year ago.

Ohio State will not win the Big Ten this season. Nor will the Buckeyes play in a prestigious bowl game. But they still could ruin what has been the best season for Michigan football in some time. The Wolverines have not had a 10-win season since 2006.

"It would definitely heal some of the pain and send us out on a good note and get them ready for next season," Brewster said. "Kind of like 2001 – not a great year, but they beat Michigan and kept it rolling into next season. I think that would be great if we could do that."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories