Ohio State's Woody Hayes Athletic Center is the bosom of the beast - the nerve center of the Buckeyes' tradition-laden football program. Its halls are adorned with the spoils of more than a century of college football wars.
There are the photos and plaques honoring past champions, but nothing takes prominence like the awards - the precious metals and the sacred glass - such as the National Championship Trophy, and the extensive collection of individual honors.
In the college game, this is the swag, the bling that is far too heavy to wear around your neck. There are Heisman trophies, recognizing the most outstanding player in the land, Outland trophies citing the best blue collar laborer on the interior line, and Lombardi awards - a rugged chunk of granite that goes to the best linebacker or lineman.
"You see all those trophies every time you come in and out of the building," OhioState sophomore tailback Chris Wells said. "You can't help but notice - there's a lot of them - and that's just more of the history and tradition around this place. You kinda feel humbled by all of it."
Michigan's Schembechler Hall is a similar shrine, where recruits quietly and reverently pace past the relics that honor the exploits of former Wolverines such as Charles Woodson, Braylon Edwards and LaMarr Woodley.
"You get chills just seeing those trophies," Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison said. "You almost feel like those guys are in the room with you."
It's all about team at both places, as the unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Buckeyes and the streaking Wolverines, winners of six straight, chug toward their season-ending throw-down. But along the way to umpteen Big Ten titles and a collection of national championships, both Ohio State and Michigan have mined plenty of individual glory.
"The focus, the goals are always based on what we can accomplish as a team," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "We've seen over and over that when the team meets its goals, a number of our individual players are usually honored as well."
Ohio State's Jim Tressel sees the multitude of distinct and specific awards in much the same light.
"The great thing about postseason accolades is that they go to the guys who end up on good teams," Tressel said. "We still have a chance for some of our guys to be recognized in those areas, but we've got a lot of work to do down the stretch."
As the football season enters its final phase, Michigan and Ohio State have many of their players in the mix for most of the major honors. The Heisman Trophy, the prime piece of hardware that goes to the nation's most outstanding player, went home with Ohio State's Troy Smith last year, and with Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.
Michigan quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart have been mentioned on the short list for this season's Heisman. Bruce Madej, the assistant athletic director for media relations at UM, said the honor should be won on the field, not through the campaigns and gimmicky marketing that have become more commonplace in the awards game.
"When Charles Woodson won the Heisman here, everyone was thinking Peyton Manning was the favorite, but Woodson had a big performance against Michigan State that got him started, and gained national media attention," Madej said. "From there, more people noticed that he was a great athlete, a great player, and his two-way performances were kind of an oddity. But the bottom line is he was on a great team, and he won it on the field."
Michigan's best candidate for a prestigious national award this year is likely senior offensive tackle Jake Long, who Big Ten coaches voted last season as the best in the conference, ahead of Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, who was the third overall pick in the most-recent NFL draft. Long is up for the Outland Trophy, which goes to best interior lineman, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, recognizing the top linebacker or lineman.
"Jake should win those because he's the best at what he does," said Hart, the principal beneficiary of Long's blocking. "I can't imagine there being anyone better. He deserves any award he's up for."
Ohio State junior linebacker James Laurinaitis won last season's Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defensive player in the country. Laurinaitis is being considered again for that honor, as well as the Rotary Lombardi Award, Butkus Award, Lott Trophy and Bednarik Award.
"I just try and prepare myself as best I can, work every day at getting better, and do whatever is possible to help my team win," Laurinaitis said. "I guess individual awards are nice things to have down the line, but right now I'm focused only on what we're doing as a team."
Shelly Poe, the director of athletic communications at Ohio State, said her approach to the awards season is to make certain the national voting panels have the data they need on any Buckeyes.
"I believe the philosophy of Ohio State in every area is to be sure outstanding students are recognized for achievement in the field where they excel," Poe said. "We will do everything reasonably possible to make sure the selectors have all pertinent information and data to make their selection, either through information we distribute directly, or information we provide to the media to gain further attention for our outstanding performers."
Ohio State's A.J. Hawk won the Lombardi Award in 2005, while Michigan's Woodley was the recipient last year. Former Buckeyes Orlando Pace (1996), John Hicks (1973), Jim Stillwagon (1970) and Jim Parker (1956) were all Outland Trophy winners. The Biletnikoff Award recognizing the top receiver went to Michigan's Edwards in 2004, and Ohio State's Terry Glenn in 1995.
Blade sports writer Matt Markey is member of the Football Writers Association of America, and on the voting panel for this year's Outland and Nagurski trophies, and a voter for the All-American Team, as well as a past member of the Doak Walker selection committee.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.
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