COLUMBUS - Dane Sanzenbacher already has a significant collection of memories from the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
The sophomore wide receiver for the Buckeyes has watched the game on television as a fan, he's taken in one of the real classics of the long-running series while witnessing that epic 42-39 Ohio State win in 2006 when he was a recruit seated in the stands at Ohio Stadium.
Last year, Sanzenbacher was on the field in the rain and the cold as the Buckeyes ground out a 14-3 win in Ann Arbor. Tomorrow, the former Central Catholic standout and two-time City League player of the year plays his first Ohio State-Michigan game in Ohio Stadium.
"There will be something special about that," Sanzenbacher said. "This program has so much history and tradition surrounding it, but the Michigan game takes everything to another level. It's exciting to think about experiencing all of that."
Sanzenbacher had one catch for seven yards in last year's game as the Buckeyes threw just 13 passes in the foul weather. Tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells carried 39 times for 222 yards and scored both Ohio State touchdowns.
"What we did on offense was pretty much dictated by the rain that day, but it was great to go into the Big House and come out with a win, and a Big Ten championship," Sanzenbacher said. "After watching the Ohio State-Michigan games for so many years, it was exciting to get to be a part of one."
Sanzenbacher said in the moments after last weekend's win over Illinois that he felt a sense of relief that all of this season's preliminary games were completed, and he could devote his full attention to Michigan.
"The Michigan game is huge, but it's something you can't think about all that much during the season, because of the good teams we have to play before this point," he said. "You have to focus on them first, so when you get to this last game of the season, it has all of the meaning it should."
On the line for the Buckeyes is a fourth straight Big Ten title and a fifth straight win over their rivals. While the bowl implications are muddled in a dozen different scenarios elsewhere, Ohio State, in its battle with Michigan, has complete control over whether it is involved in the 2008 conference crown.
"There's usually a lot of other things involved - like that 2006 game that was No. 1 against No. 2 - but you don't need any of that to make this a big game," Sanzenbacher said. "It has a special meaning all of its own, because it's Ohio State-Michigan. It's always been that way."
Sanzenbacher said he and the rest of the underclassmen want to give the seniors a fitting final game in Ohio Stadium with a win over Michigan. Coach Jim Tressel said Sanzenbacher, who is tied for second on the team with 19 receptions for 223 yards, has played a vital role.
"Dane Sanzenbacher is a competitor, and that's the thing I love about this team - not just the seniors but the whole group," Tressel said. "We've got a bunch of guys that like to compete. Dane, he's been there whenever you've needed him and he's always where he's supposed to be, and that's where the quarterback can deliver it. Sometimes he's the decoy, but Dane Sanzenbacher is where he's supposed to be."
Tressel also indicated that Sanzenbacher's role with the Buckeyes is likely to expand.
"What are his limits? The sky is the limit for Dane," Tressel said.
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