The Buckeyes fell to a disappointing 6-4 overall and 3-4 in Big Ten play with their 24-17 loss at Purdue Saturday. By contrast, Michigan will come to Ohio Stadium Saturday for the 101st rendition of The Game (1 p.m., ABC) already assured of at least a tie for its 42nd Big Ten championship. The Wolverines are 9-1 overall and 7-0 in conference play. A win on Saturday would give UM a second straight outright Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth.
This scenario is similar to OSU coach Jim Tressel's first season in 2001. OSU entered The Game that season at Ann Arbor also 6-4 overall. UM was playing for the Big Ten's Bowl Championship Series berth. (The Rose Bowl was hosting the national championship game that season.)
OSU, with first-time starting quarterback Craig Krenzel at the helm, played the spoiler's role to perfection as the Buckeyes pulled out a 26-21 win that denied UM a BCS bid and helped send Illinois instead to the Sugar Bowl.
In Columbus, many OSU fans hold to the belief a win over Michigan can block out most if not all of the team's previous misdeeds for the season. Accordingly, the Buckeyes understand they desperately need this win to prevent this from being a completely lost season.
"The one thing we know for sure going into the last game of the season, the Ohio State-Michigan game, is this is the last chance we have to become a great football team or the best you can be," Tressel said after OSU's loss at Purdue. "The Michigan game will be huge. It always is. Our guys will get after it."
Tressel was asked about the importance of getting a win over Michigan to try and improve his team's bowl chances.
"I would say if you would ask Ohio State what's more important, (the bowl game) or the Michigan game, I'm sure they would tell you it's The Game," said Tressel, who is 2-1 against Michigan. "It doesn't get much tougher than the Ohio State-Michigan game."
The Players' Take
A number of the players surveyed after the loss at Purdue were already looking toward the regular season finale.
"We've got the big one coming up," said defensive end Simon Fraser. "This is a game your season is made of. We've got to get ready."
Quarterback Troy Smith is ticketed to make his fifth start of the season and first appearance against Michigan. He said rebounding from the tough loss at Purdue will be key.
"Regardless of whether we're going up against Michigan next week or Northwestern next week, we have to have the ability to come off of a loss and get a win," Smith said. "We can't harp on this too much. We need to get focused for the next game. We have Michigan next week and we are looking forward to getting a win in the ‘Shoe."
Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock agreed: "We've got one game and it's for all the marbles. By losing a tough game like this, we should be motivated to play a lot harder. I'm ready for next week. I'm already focused on that."
Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who helped pace the defense with nine tackles, two for losses and a sack at Purdue, is also looking forward to facing the Wolverines.
"We've got one game left and it's the biggest game of the year," Carpenter said. "A victory in that game can right a lot of wrongs we've had so far. We played one good half of football and one bad half (at Purdue). This just shows what we can do when we're on."
Like Carpenter, offensive tackle Rob Sims will make his second career start against Michigan.
"This is the biggest game of the year," Sims said. "Put away all of those other games. Put away the national championship two years ago, the Fiesta Bowl. This is the game everybody looks forward to every year. This is the biggest game of our lives.
"Every Michigan game is the same – you go out there play as hard as you can and get the job done."
Although Purdue held freshman star Ted Ginn Jr. in check, Ginn is excited to get his first taste of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
"We're just going to go out, play hard, rebound and just have fun," Ginn said. "They're going to come out and bring their A-game. We've just got to bring ours and have fun."
Ginn said he was excited about the chance to play against his former Cleveland Glenville teammate Pierre Woods, who is a defensive end for Michigan.
"It's going to be great," Ginn said. "I haven't played against Pierre in a long time. We always talk about it, but next week we'll see."
Flanker Santonio Holmes already has experience against Michigan. He made a pair of touchdown grabs in OSU's 35-21 loss at Michigan a year ago.
"This is going to be real big," said Holmes, who made a stunning diving touchdown grab at Purdue. "We just have to stay focused. Those guys are on a big streak. They're winning games and they're playing good. We're doing the same thing. If we keep our momentum and focus going and build off this game, I think we can pull out a victory. They have to come into the ‘Shoe and that's not an easy place to win at."
* Just as a year ago, Michigan had an open week, then faced Northwestern before tackling OSU. And, just as a year ago, UM rolled to a relatively easy win over NU. The Wolverines cruised to their eighth straight win this season and 13th consecutive Big Ten victory as well with a 42-20 win over the Wildcats.
UM's only blemish is a 28-20 loss at Notre Dame in Week 2.
* Over the course of the Big Ten season, only one team has held Michigan under 27 points. UM still pulled out its game at Purdue 16-14. The Wolverines have had 30 or more points in five Big Ten games and have averaged 32.1 points in the conference season.
* The Game has decided a Big Ten championship for one or both teams every year since 1994, except for 1999.