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Published: Monday, 11/13/2006

Rivalry, stakes make for dream matchup

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Indiana football coach Terry Hoeppner stated the obvious after the Michigan pounded his Hoosiers 34-3 Saturday to remain undefeated.

"I guess that's what everybody's been wanting," Hoeppner said. "Well, they get the big showdown next week."

The big showdown, in case you haven't heard, is Saturday between the second-ranked Wolverines and No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus.

Both powerhouses are 11-0 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten. They're not only competing for a conference championship but also for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

And, of course, these two schools loathe one another.

Reserved a spot on the couch for 3:30 p.m. Saturday yet?

"You couldn't really script it any better," UM cornerback Leon Hall said.

In a way only a football coach can, Wolverines boss Lloyd Carr tried to add perspective to this week's huge matchup when he said "the biggest Michigan-Ohio State game that I have ever been in is the next one."This isn't just the "next one."

Never before have the Wolverines and Buckeyes met as the top-ranked teams in the country, and none of the other games in this storied rivalry has had so much riding on it for both schools.

This game could possibly mean even more to UM, which has revenge on its mind after a stunning 25-21 collapse against Ohio State last year and has four losses in five tries against the Jim Tressel-coached Buckeyes.

"When you lose [in Columbus], you're hurt because it's such a big game and so many people are watching," Wolverines running back Mike Hart said. "It just hurts to lose to that team, period. It's something that they don't want to lose to us, and we don't want to lose to them. That's what makes it such a great game."

This is hardly the first time a Wolverines-Buckeyes clash has been preceded by weeks of hype. UM has played Ohio State every year since 1918 and finished the Big Ten season against the Buckeyes each year since 1935.

Part of the reason this particular grudge match is met with such anticipation is the route each team has taken to get to this point.

While Ohio State has been No. 1 from the start, UM began the year ranked 14th and worked its way up, all the while listening to questions about the chance to knock its archrival from the top spot when Nov. 18 rolls around.

The pressure for this game has been constant, so much so that Wolverines receiver Steve Breaston said it was difficult to keep the younger players focused on the team UM was playing from week to week.

Focusing on the opponent won't be a problem this week.

"I think it's going to be another great Ohio State-Michigan game, and certainly this one has a few things that are a little bit different," Carr said. "How much more special can Ohio State-Michigan be? I think this one has everything that a fan could want. It has everything the players and coaches could want.

"I think it's great for the Big Ten Conference. I think it's great for every college football fan. It will be an exciting week."

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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