OSU, U-M Take Different Approaches To Rivalry

Though summer was not yet half finished, talk of Michigan and Ohio State was in the air in July when representatives of every Big Ten team gathered in Chicago for the annual football kickoff event for the media. That chatter revealed two teams planning to take divergent approaches to the next installment of the rivalry.

Michigan week may just be beginning, but rest assured the Buckeyes started thinking about the Wolverines long ago.

Or, maybe they never stopped.

"In the spring, we watch all four quarters of the previous Michigan game just to keep it in our minds," OSU senior cornerback and captain Malcolm Jenkins explained in July at the Big Ten media kickoff. "There are always reminders somewhere in the locker room. It's something that we never take down. We'll have Michigan's depth chart up somewhere the whole year and change everybody else's throughout the year. That's something we'll never take out of our minds."

Opposing fans may have plenty of names and opinions for Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, but something they cannot call him is a loser when it comes to what is perhaps college football's best rivalry.

Tressel served notice that he knows Michigan is an important part of Ohio State football when in his first public appearance as Ohio State head coach he gave his famous "310 days" speech at halftime of a basketball game in early 2001, and he backed up his words by leaving reminders for his team throughout the rest of the season.

Aside from the chart Jenkins mentioned and the tradition of watching the film of the previous season's contest during spring practice, there is also a clock in the Woody Hayes Athletics Center that counts down the days to the next installment of The Game and a session of practice each week devoted to the Wolverines.

Along the way, Tressel's teams are 6-1 against the Michigan.

Although his chance to earn a fourth pair of gold pants with one last victory over Michigan was still four months away, Jenkins smiled when asked about the clock.

"It's in the middle of the weight room so every time you finish a set, it's right there, so you know it's getting closer and closer," he said.

In the same ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, players representing Michigan were in less of a mood to discuss their biggest rival.

"I think our goal is to focus on the present, so now we're focused on training camp," senior defensive end Tim Jamison said. "That week, we want to talk about that game, but that's all we want to talk about. We don't want to talk about O-State when we're trying to play Utah, because that takes our focus off of Utah. We want to be focused so when that week comes, we'll save all our questions and all our answers for Ohio State and hopefully they'll keep theirs for us. We'll get focused on our season and when that week comes, have fun."

There has not been a lot of fun for Jamison when it comes to the OSU-Michigan rivalry so far. His Wolverine teams are the first four to drop four consecutive contests to Ohio State.

Despite the recent run of disappointments, the Michigan players saw nothing wrong with the approach they had been taking.

Mike Massey, a senior tight end from Brecksville, Ohio, who just happens to have older brothers who played on opposite sides of the rivalry, maintained that looking ahead of other teams earlier in the season had been a bigger issue during his career.

"It's kind of cliché to say, but you've got to take it one game at a time and if you don't, that's when you stumble and have a loss that you shouldn't have," said Massey, whose brother Jim was a Buckeye from 1997-2001 while Pat was a Wolverine from 2001-05.

"There's too much parity in college football nowadays to take anybody lightly."

Ditto that message from senior cornerback Morgan Trent.

"I'm gonna say the same thing," he said. "They're definitely in the back of our minds because it's the last game. The first game is in the front of our minds. We're always thinking about them to a certain extent."

Massey was asked if new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez could gain early credibility for his tenure with the program with an early win against Ohio State, much the way Bo Schembechler did with his first Michigan team in 1969.

"First of all, I think we have a pretty good credibility going in, no matter how (we are playing), as have they, and there are high expectations going into each game," Massey said. "Of course, I would be lying to you if I said I didn't want to win that game just as much as they do. I think a lot of players on our team deserve it. We'll work hard towards that and when the week comes we'll concentrate on it, but we've got a long season ahead of us before that."

Meanwhile, Jenkins confirmed that even though he and his teammates know that every game is important, Michigan is a regular topic of conversation all year, both in season and out.

Is it true that the Buckeyes hold the game with the Wolverines above all others?

"It's very accurate, especially when it comes down to your senior day," he said. "That's The Game. That's your last game in the ‘Shoe. That's your last chance against Michigan. Usually it has the Big Ten championship at stake. Your whole legacy as a senior comes down to that day."

Told of the countdown clock, the special spring film session and that Ohio State does make a bigger deal about Michigan than any other opponent, Massey seemed not to care.

"Every team has different ways of going about things, so they can do whatever they want to do. I haven't really heard any of that, but no matter how they go about it or how we go about it, they have their own way and we have our own way."

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