Tressel: Team Squarely Focused On Michigan

Despite a share of the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl bid already sewed up, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said Monday he expects no letdown from his team when it travels to Michigan this weekend for the 106th renewal of The Game.

Ohio State has already clinched its fifth consecutive Big Ten championship, and the program's first trip to the Rose Bowl in 13 seasons is already in hand.

All that remains for the Buckeyes on their 2009 regular-season plate is finishing off archrival Michigan, a team that hasn't beaten a Division I-A team since late September and one that OSU has dominated in recent years.

Additionally, there are the intrinsic distractions that are annually associated with The Game – i.e. Senior Tackle, procuring extra tickets for friends and family – plus a new one this year as the Buckeyes don for the first time new tribute uniforms in honor of the 1954 national championship team.

About the only thing Ohio State has to overcome is overconfidence, right? Wrong.

"I'm not worried about our guys being too overconfident," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said Monday during his weekly press luncheon. "We have enough guys who have played in this game, and they know better than that. Besides, if there is any inkling of overconfidence, it will get knocked out of their throwback uniforms on the first play."

The Buckeyes have been installed as early 13-point favorites in the game, set to kick off Saturday shortly after 12 noon Eastern in Michigan Stadium, and some observers have wondered why the spread isn't much larger.

Michigan has struggled since winning its first four games this season. Since the calendar turned to October, the Wolverines have lost six straight Big Ten contests and six of seven overall. Their lone victory was a 63-6 throttling of Division I-AA Delaware State.

As a result, U-M faces the prospects of some historic milestones. A loss to Ohio State would clinch last place in the Big Ten standings, a place the Wolverines have not occupied since the end of the 1962 season. A loss would mean Michigan had strung together back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1962 and '63, and the team would have lost 16 of 18 conference games since the mid-1930s.

How exactly does Tressel expect to keep his team focused on the Wolverines and not begin preparing for Pasadena?

"If you look specifically at Michigan, they could be at eight or nine wins right now if the ball bounces a different way or a call goes a different way," the OSU coach said. "That's the fine line in college football … but what we've got to focus on is feeling like at the end of this game we've played the best we're capable of playing.

"After all, it's game 12, we're as healthy as we are and have all these experiences and learned all these lessons. Now, can we say at the end of the game that we played the best we were capable of playing? We have to make the assumption Michigan will do that."

That would be a good assumption to make. The Wolverines need a victory to avoid a record sixth straight defeat in the series. Moreover, they need a win to become bowl-eligible and avoid staying home in the postseason for two years in a row after making 33 straight bowl appearances.

One reporter called it their "desperation factor," saying U-M freshman quarterback Tate Forcier had already talked about getting a victory so the team could send its senior members out with another bowl trip.

"Desperation factor? I don't think so," Tressel said. "The great thing about this game is that it always has a ‘let it all hang out' feel to it. I've never seen either team not be wired in at the beginning of that game. It's Ohio State-Michigan.

"I'm sure you could talk to some people who have participated in this game as a player or a coach, and they could tell you that probably in the forefront of their memories of their time here is the Ohio State-Michigan game. Not which bowl did you go to and where were you ranked. It's the Ohio State-Michigan game."

As far as Forcier's comments were concerned, Tressel said he would expect nothing less.

"I love the competitiveness of Tate Forcier," the OSU head coach said. "The guy loves to play, the guy loves to compete. There's no question about that. If he's got a pulse, he's going to compete, so I would think nothing else but for him to feel and say that because that's the way he plays. He backs it up with his play."

Since Tressel arrived in Columbus, the series has taken a decided turn toward Ohio State. Former head coach Earle Bruce was 5-4 against the Wolverines while Tressel's predecessor John Cooper was 2-10-1 against the Maize and Blue. Since he took over in 2001, however, Tressel has won seven of eight in the series including the last five in a row.

That represents Ohio State's longest winning streak in the rivalry that dates back to 1897. Moreover, last year's 42-7 victory by the Buckeyes was their largest margin of victory since a 50-14 win in 1968.

Even with all of that success, Tressel said he would never take an OSU victory for granted over Michigan – and he will not allow his players to do so, either.

"There's a reality in life that if you take anything for granted, you're probably not thinking right," he said. "We talk about a lot of things that we shouldn't take for granted – maybe some things that aren't even that real to us.

"But when you talk about the Ohio State-Michigan game, that's very real. I'd like to think our guys don't take anything for granted, although I'm sure we all do take things for granted. But this (game) wouldn't be one of them."

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