COLUMBUS - For Ohio State fans, it's never too early to start worrying about the Michigan game. But under second-year coach Jim Tressel, those worrying days may be over.
While it's never easy picking the winner in the OSU-UM annual border war, the Buckeyes' mastery of the Wolverines last season and 12-0 record this year should have their fans strongly endorsing Tressel's commitment to leading this college football program.
Now that we're all aware of what kind of impact Tressel has made, we can surmise that the Buckeyes deserve their favorite's role for Saturday's clash against Michigan at Ohio Stadium.
Tressel came to OSU intent on building a great program and making fans proud of their Buckeyes again. He came to Columbus determined to restore confidence and instill faith in players who lacked leadership and direction. It's fair to say Tressel has made an excellent first impression.
“My goal and passion is to make sure we've prepared the best we can prepare,” Tressel said at his weekly news conference yesterday. “During the week you work like crazy so that when we walk into a game we know we've done all that we can do. You hope your guys go in confident because they're prepared. Confidence and preparation can result in being relaxed.”
Still, Tressel let reporters in on a big secret heading into the Michigan game. “I'm scared to death,” he said.
Perhaps what endears Tressel most to his players is his honesty. They never have to guess what he's thinking.
Tressel related a story about freshman running back Maurice Clarett, who likely will be cleared to play against Michigan after Tressel held him out of last week's contest against Illinois because of a shoulder injury.
“If the trainers say he can't play, I'm not going to override that,” Tressel said. But even if the trainers clear Clarett to play, “I might decide not to play him.”
Want to know why Michigan will have its hands full with OSU Saturday? The Wolverines are going to need more than a superior game-plan from coach Lloyd Carr to beat the Buckeyes. They're going to have to break the Buckeyes' resolve.
Under former coach John Cooper, the Buckeyes tried so hard to beat Michigan that they often performed beneath their talent level in their biggest game of the year. The Buckeyes were 2-10-1 against Michigan under Cooper.
Under Tressel, the Buckeyes are uncanny in their ability to find ways to win.
A win over Michigan advances Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3 for a shot at the national championship.
``I don't think we've stressed the negatives of what could be lost. I'm thinking about how can we play our best game of the season,” Tressel said.
“It's like standing over a three-foot putt. If you know for sure you're going to knock it in, then you will. If you're worried about missing, you're probably not going to make it.
“It's the same thing getting ready for this game. We can't worry about what's going to happen if we win or what's going to happen if we don't. We've got to focus on the game.”