Tressel, Players Look Ahead To The Game

For 11 weeks, members of the Ohio State football team have resisted the urge to look ahead to next Saturday's showdown with No. 2 Michigan. But that moratorium was lifted in the moments following their 54-10 win at Northwestern. Click here for comments from Jim Tressel and the players on The Game.

The intrepid reporter sat in Ohio State's postgame press conference at Northwestern Saturday night and tailback Antonio Pittman the question everybody has been dying to ask.

"Do you think you can beat Michigan?" the reporter asked Pittman as he veered from behind his note pad.

Pittman's reply exuded the kind of confidence the nation's top-ranked team should have after it won its first 11 games by an average of 28 points.

"Yeah, because we're a good team, too," Pittman said.

And with those words – not to mention Ohio State's commanding 54-10 win over the host Wildcats on Saturday – The Game is on.

Ohio State will host No. 2-ranked and fellow unbeaten Michigan next Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC national telecast) in a showdown of epic proportions. It will be the 103rd rendition of The Game, hailed as the greatest rivalry, perhaps, in all of sports. And the outright Big Ten championship and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series national title game will be on the line.

It will mark just the third time these two rivals have met as undefeated and untied opponents. (The others were 1970 and 1973.)

Some may say it will be the biggest game in the 85-year history of venerable Ohio Stadium.

But for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who is 4-1 against Michigan, the importance of The Game is pretty simple.

"This is the Ohio State-Michigan game," Tressel said. "This is not about the BCS. This is about Ohio State and Michigan and winning the Big Ten Conference.

"The Ohio State-Michigan game is always the biggest game. It doesn't matter what the records are or what's on the table. The fact that it is one versus two, that's the way we think it should be. Obviously, it's exciting."

Tressel was proud of the fact his team resisted the temptation to look ahead to the Michigan game.

"When you have a rivalry like ours, you think about it often," Tressel said. "You think about being good enough. You prepare for it. You want to play your best football in that last game.

"We have watched them whenever we have had a crossover game like Northwestern or Michigan State or Indiana. They are physical and they play hard. They've got great weapons outside and (Michael) Hart is a great back."

Quarterback Troy Smith will bid to become the first OSU quarterback since Tippy Dye in the 1930s to try and lead the Buckeyes to a third straight win over Michigan. Smith is confident his teammates will dial in on the task at hand this week.

"I take it week by week and obviously thus far our team has been a great shadow of the 17 seniors, so I know we've all been taking it week by week and worrying about what game and what team we need to play in the week to come," he said.

Defensive tackle David Patterson categorized what makes The Game special.

"One thing we know about this game is it will be physical," Patterson said. "It comes down to toughness. This is the situation you dream about as a little kid. I am sure it will be a sad situation in the locker room. We are happy to play Michigan, but I am sad that it be the last time I'll be in the ‘Shoe. I don't have many more opportunities or situations to suit up with these gentlemen."

Center Doug Datish added, "It's called The Game for a reason. It is The Game. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to play in that game. It's going to be everything it is made out to be. For it to be our final go around as seniors, it's something."

Safety Brandon Mitchell said the Buckeyes have stayed on course.

"It was real hard for us to not look forward," Mitchell said. "But we concentrated on what we had to do and now it's here. It's a surreal feeling. We all know the importance of the game. It will probably be the biggest game anyone on the team will ever play in. We will approach it that way."

It would be a storybook ending, Mitchell said, for the Buckeyes to defeat Michigan in his final home game – especially with so much at stake.

"It means a lot for me as a senior just because it will be my last home game," he said. "You want to go out victorious. It's something you'll tell your kids about."

Sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis got his first taste of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry last year in Ann Arbor. Starting linebacker Bobby Carpenter went down with an injury on the first play of the game, setting the stage for Laurinaitis to play the rest of the game.

"To play in that game last year, that was a surreal experience as a true freshman," he said. "Being through one game like that before, I will know what to expect. It is more amplified than any other game we play in the Big Ten. To play in that game, that's special. I am sure we get their best from them.

"We get to enjoy this win for tonight, but now we get to look forward to Michigan. We are blessed to play in the greatest rivalry in college football. Right now, this is The Game.

"We just have to go with it and try and force some turnovers."

Like Smith, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has played a big role in OSU's wins over Michigan the last two years. But with UM coming off a 7-5 season last year, few people assumed this year's match-up would have this much significance.

"I knew they were going to be the team," Ginn said. "They always strive to be the best. I know it will be a great game. We just have to come out and play hard and play fast."

Pittman said he and his teammates resisted the urge to talk about or look ahead to Michigan. But his family and friends picked up the slack and talked about it plenty.

"Every week people would say to me, ‘Don't worry about getting me a ticket this week. Just get me one for the Michigan game,' " Pittman said. "I only have four tickets, so there are going to be a lot of unhappy people.

"We did put it to the side, but everybody would ask about it. But now it's finally here."

As always, Michigan week will come with all of the trappings that go with The Game. The OSU marching band will likely come in at dinnertime Sunday to pep up the players. The seniors will participate in Senior Tackle. Former players will line the field Saturday for the Tunnel of Pride. If victorious, each player will receive a pendant with a pair of gold pants.

But Tressel said nobody on his staff would be in the office Saturday night or at the crack of dawn Sunday morning beginning the preparations for Michigan.

"Our coaches will still come in at noon – we won't change that," Tressel said. "But it is something you can't wait to be a part of."

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