OSU, U-M Approach Game In Own Ways

Per the actions of their head coach, the Buckeyes have had Michigan in mind to some extent or another all year. Meanwhile, Michigan plays say they prefer to take the season one game at a time and think about Ohio State only when the time is right.

Plenty of factors go into deciding the winner in most football games, but Kurt Coleman said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's various ways of keeping his team's rivalry with Michigan fresh in the Buckeyes' minds all year should not be overlooked.

"He does a great job of constantly reminding us 365 days a year the last time we lost to them and the last time we beat them," Coleman, a senior captain for the Buckeyes, said at the Big Ten Media Kickoff in Chicago last summer.

While Tressel makes eyes roll just about every week with flowery talk about the next opponent, he has never been shy about putting the Michigan game on a pedestal above all others.

In myriad ways, he emphasizes the rivalry with his players, from a clock in the weight room that counts down the days to the next Ohio State-Michigan game to a regular practice segment named for the Wolverines' colors and an annual ritual of watching the previous year's Michigan game again during spring practice.

"I like to keep it as a constant reminder from a standpoint of we love to remind our guys how fortunate they are to be a part of special things," Tressel said. "Ohio State-Michigan is a special thing, so we like to keep that in the forefront all year, but long before we came here, Ohio State-Michigan was a big deal."

He said he could not remember from where exactly the idea to do such things came, but he acknowledged some similar practices when he was head coach at Youngstown State from 1986-2000.

"I can't remember if we did that little bit when I was here as an assistant, but we did a lot of Blue and Gold periods when I was at Youngstown because Akron and Kent were our rivals," he said in Columbus on Monday. "I was there for a hundred years, and we did a lot of those."

Coleman is glad Tressel kept up those practices upon moving to Ohio State prior to the 2001 season.

"He does a great job with that," Coleman said in Chicago. "It's not overwhelming, but it always keeps it in your mind and keeps you hungry. He doesn't want you to lose the fact that no one on this team has lost to Michigan, so we don't know what it's like, and you don't want to be the one to do it.

When told about Ohio State's practices, Michigan players across the room from Coleman in the Windy City respectfully declined adopting such things themselves.

Asked about a countdown clock, Wolverine offensive lineman Mark Ortmann of Texas said, "I think it would be a good thing as long as we had another clock next to it for this week's game. Don't lose focus on what you have this week. It would be helpful."

Ohio native Zoltan Mesko had similar sentiments.

"We try to focus on every week as much as we can," said Mesko, who grew up an Ohio State fan in Twinsburg. "I've always wanted to put one up, I'm all for it, but if you put a countdown clock up then it's always in the back of your mind and maybe you're not fully focused on that week, so you might become a little complacent on a lighter opponent and flop and ruin your whole season because that's the BCS way now. It's always a playoff game, and that's what makes it great."

Both players and head coach Rich Rodriguez also pointed out Michigan's ability to keep one eye on Ohio State is hindered by the presence of several other significant rivalries on the Wolverines' schedule every year.

"We're not only in that rivalry (with Ohio State), but we also have a great rivalry with Michigan State and another one with Notre Dame," Rodriguez said. "Probably all the coaches in our league will tell you they have rivalries with everybody else in the Big Ten conference."

For Mesko, the seriousness of the Ohio State rivalry was clear because of where he was raised, but he soon found out the Michigan natives on the squad looked at Michigan State in a similar light.

"I think it's more on a personal level," Mesko said. "If you grew up in Michigan, you really pay attention to the Michigan State rivalry. When I came into Michigan, I never even knew Michigan State was a rival so I had to learn it. I guess we kind of learn from each other how we feel about certain rivalries. You see it develop over the years. If you're not educated about it then you're not going to know about it."

With only one major rival, Tressel is free to draw clear lines of distinction with his actions as much during the 51 weeks that aren't Michigan week as he does in the seven days before the Buckeyes take on the Wolverines, and Coleman would not have it any other way.

"It kind of gives you low doses of it throughout the year. It's not overwhelming," said Coleman, who hails from the Dayton area. "It excited you, but it's a whole new intensity when you get prepared for that."

Of course, the players on both sides are somewhat limited in how much they can relate to the other team's approach, which is what makes Justin Boren's perspective on the subject so interesting.

Boren played two seasons at Michigan before transferring to Ohio State and has seen the rivalry from both sides.

He did not speak with reporters this week, but prior to the season he entertained questions about the subject. At that time, he opted not to endorse one approach over the other, but he admitted affection for Tressel's methods in keeping the Wolverines ever present in his players' minds.

"Oh, I love it," Boren said. "At Ohio State, we're always thinking about the Michigan game. We have drills each practice, and I think it's a great thing. I definitely think that helps us. We're thinking about The Game every day of the year, no matter if it's spring practice, summer training or in the winter. We're always thinking about The Game, and it's a great thing."

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