COLUMBUS - Dane Sanzenbacher first heard about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry at a very young age. He read a lot concerning it, and he watched it unfold on television many times.
But this week, the former Central Catholic standout will live it.
Sanzenbacher and his Ohio State teammates are preparing to face the Wolverines on Saturday in Ann Arbor, and the freshman wide receiver for the Buckeyes is experiencing the build up to the big game here at ground zero.
"For any kid growing up in Ohio, you looked forward to the Ohio State-Michigan game like it was another holiday. No matter how the season had gone, it was always the biggest game," Sanzenbacher said here yesterday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, where the Buckeyes train.
The 2007 season took a peculiar turn for both the Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1) and the Wolverines (8-3, 6-1) last weekend as both of them lost, marking the first time since 1959 that the two Big Ten powers enter the rivalry week coming off defeats. The OSU loss bounced the Buckeyes from the No. 1 ranking and a potential berth in the national championship game, but they still play Michigan for an outright Big Ten Conference championship, and a likely trip to the Rose Bowl.
"It's more like this game is not even part of our regular season," Sanzenbacher said. "It's like it's a whole separate thing in itself, as if the regular season ended with Illinois, and now we're on to Michigan."
Sanzenbacher said he sensed a distinct change in the mood and atmosphere surrounding the Ohio State program once last Saturday's Illinois game was history, and the focus switched to Michigan.
"You saw signs all over, new stuff hanging on the lockers. It was pretty much everywhere," Sanzenbacher.
"Michigan week is an overall experience, and if you are here and part of the Ohio State football program, you have to embrace it. It's everywhere. You can't be part of this family without it."
Sanzenbacher, who has played in nine of Ohio State's 11 games this season, is fifth on the team with 11 receptions, good for 82 yards and one touchdown. He said this will be the biggest game of his career, no matter what role he is called on to play.
"This is a lot different than high school, when our big game was St. Francis and that was like the Super Bowl for us. Now we're on a national stage, playing in a rivalry that goes back more than 100 years," Sanzenbacher said. "Guys were talking about this game way back in summer workouts."
Sanzenbacher, who has played primarily when the Buckeyes go to four and five wide receiver sets, said he expects his team to bounce back from the 28-21 loss to Illinois and play well in Ann Arbor. Ohio State has won the last three meetings in the rivalry, and five of the last six games with Michigan.
"Everyone was pretty down after Saturday, but that didn't really last long, because Michigan was right there, next on the schedule," Sanzenbacher said. "I think it would be harder to come back from a loss if you had to play a team that's not Michigan."
Sanzenbacher said he expects a very intense week of practice, with minimal distractions. Ohio State's players will not meet with the media again until after the game.
"This is the biggest game, the one that means the most. It's something before a year ago, I didn't think would even be possible," Sanzenbacher said about being directly involved in the tradition-rich rivalry.
"I'd say I'm more excited than nervous, but it's something I've looked forward to for a long time, and I hope it will go well. When you play for Ohio State, really the only record they keep is how you did against Michigan."
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