COLUMBUS - In the minds of some Ohio State players, the Rio Grande and the Arizona desert are not the only places where we have border security issues.
They can't figure out what all of those Ohio guys are doing crossing the state line to go play for Michigan.
"It's crazy. Maybe I'm biased because I'm here in Columbus, but I can't see playing for any other state, any other university," Ohio State senior fullback and Columbus native Dionte Johnson said.
The Wolverines, who face the Buckeyes tomorrow for the Big Ten championship and likely a trip to the Rose Bowl, have eight Ohio players on their roster, and seven of those have been starters at some point.
Michigan's best defensive player - senior linebacker Shawn Crable - and its top offensive deep threat - junior receiver Mario Manningham - are both Ohioans. Crable played high school football at powerhouse Massillon Washington, while Manningham starred at Warren Harding.
Starting tight end Mike Massey from St. Ignatius in the Cleveland area is sidelined with an injury, while sophomore starting guard Justin Boren from Pickerington North, just outside Columbus, was a rare true freshman starter along the Michigan offensive line last season.
Defensive back Brandon Harrison from Dayton has started 18 games in his Michigan career, while junior punter Zoltan Mesko from Twinsburg has made 24 starts. Sophomore Bryan Wright from Salem handles the kickoffs for Michigan, and junior Mike Milano from Rocky River is a backup tailback.
"There's a lot of Ohio guys playing up there," Johnson said. "You want to show them, not that they should have come to Ohio State, but that we're here regardless of the decisions you made."
The crossover players are less of an issue with Ohio State defensive back Donald Washington, who is from Indianapolis. He's not sure the guys from the Buckeye State living in Ann Arbor are actually crazy.
"Yes and no, because there are a lot of things that tie into where a guy chooses to go," Washington said. "It is whatever fits you best, so I don't really look at it like, 'Hey, this kid is from Ohio, and he is playing for Michigan. What is wrong with him?' It is just Ohio State versus Michigan."
Junior defensive end Vernon Gholston is the only Ohio State starter from the state up north. The Detroit Cass Tech graduate said he was not a Michigan fan growing up, so his choice was not all that controversial on the home front.
"I didn't grow up into Michigan football, so it's not like that for me," Gholston said. "It was more of me going to a school that was great for me, and Ohio State was it. I bleed scarlet and gray now. That's who I represent now. Most people [back home] are proud of me and the things I do at Ohio State."
EARTH TO BEANIE: The overwhelming majority of Ohio State players will relate detailed stories about watching the annual battle with Michigan as kids and having a passionate interest in the outcome from a very early age. Not so for sophomore tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells, who had other interests at the time.
"Growing up in Akron, I really didn't pay much attention to Ohio State-Michigan, actually," Wells said. "I was out doing my own thing."
LATE SHOW: Ohio State senior offensive tackle Kirk Barton did not wait too long after the loss to Illinois last Saturday to get his mind to start processing Michigan information. The Buckeyes' captain went from the postgame showers directly to the film room to start the Michigan preparation.
"Since the traffic was ridiculous, I just came in here and started watching film," Barton said. "I watched a couple games, and I watched the Michigan blitz tape before I left. I put in three hours and didn't sleep real well. You start preparing because you can't do anything about the Illinois game and you don't want to go home. I'm just not a good guy to be around after we lose like that."
COLOR BLIND: Ohio State defensive lineman Brett Daly hopes the folks at Michigan won't hold the color of his helmet against him. Daly is interviewing at the University of Michigan medical school in Ann Arbor today, on the eve of Ohio State's big rivalry game at Michigan Stadium.
The senior from Elyria is a biology major who wants to be a doctor, and he has also applied for med school at Ohio State. Daly made the Ohio State team as a walk-on and was awarded a scholarship for this season.