Odds don't fool Buckeyes against Michigan


COLUMBUS - This week, we will find out just how good a salesman Jim Tressel is. Shaklee gold club status? Seward's Folly II? Dot-com stocks, anyone?

The Ohio State coach has to hook his team on the pitch line that, despite the fact none of the players on his current roster have ever lost a game to Michigan, they still need to fear the 3-8 Wolverines they will face on Saturday.

The odds-makers give the No. 10 ranked Buckeyes about a 20-point advantage - the largest this storied series has seen.

Ohio State has won the last four games against Michigan, but Tressel, who since he has been coach at Ohio State owns a 5-1 record against the Wolverines, has offered up a testimonial that this won't be the Michigan team that got bounced by Utah, or the one that got hammered by Penn State, or the one that lost to Toledo earlier this season.

It won't even be the same Michigan team that beat Minnesota two weeks ago.

"I know they know the importance of this ball game, and they're going to play better than they've ever played," Tressel said.

The OSU leader said there is more involved than just the inherent danger of having a heavy favorite regard its challenger as not much more than a 98-pound weakling. He said the intensity of this rivalry is the great equalizer in the deal, the same as every year.

"I think it goes beyond the danger thing," Tressel said.

"Ohio State versus Michigan trumps everything. It trumps your record. It trumps whether it's dangerous or you don't have a chance or any of those kinds of things. It trumps all things because it's the Ohio State-Michigan game. And I would like to think our guys understand that."

Tressel, who went 2-9 in his first season as coach at Youngstown State before leading the Penguins to four national championships in his 15 years there, said positives can come out of the struggles Michigan has had under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.

"I know the character that transition builds, and we're at the end of the year and they've had a lot of lessons and a lot of things that, some went their way and some didn't," Tressel said.

"And I know they've got good players, I know they've got good coaches, and that's what impresses me. But at the end of the day, it's going to be how well do we do. This isn't about what they're going to do, because I know they're going to do well."

Ohio State senior defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said the many lumps Michigan has taken this season would put even more meaning into Saturday's game for the Wolverines.

"We know they have struggled this year. But we know they are going to play us great," Jenkins said. "For them, this game means everything.

"They are very dangerous because this is their bowl game. This is their championship game. This is the only thing they have left to salvage their season. Everybody knows that regardless of what your record is, if you win this game, you've had an all right season."

Count senior linebacker Marcus Freeman among those who are sold on Michigan being a much better package that its wrapper represents.

"You watch film, you realize how good of a team this is," Freeman said. "Whoever this team was, you say this team is really a lot better than what their record says. It is the Ohio State-Michigan game, so each team is going to play better than they ever have."

OSU punter A.J. Trapasso said the 12-month term of implications attached to this game will bring Michigan to a higher level.

"It's incredible the magnitude this game has - people literally have good and bad years based on this game," Trapasso said. "It's just unfortunate with the way things have gone for Michigan this season. I guarantee they'll turn that around and this will be a tough game."

Tressel thinks his team has bought into Michigan's ability being grossly understated by its record. But he is also aware that not many outside the OSU program are giving Michigan much of a fighting chance in this game.

"The people that are in the silver helmets will know better," he said.