for this game

With heavy hearts, Michigan faces Ohio State for BCS berth

Nov 14, 2006 - 10:26 PM No. 2 Michigan (11-0) at No. 1 Ohio St (11-0) 3:30 pm EST

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- Second-ranked Michigan will have extra motivation when it visits top-ranked Ohio State on Saturday for the outright Big Ten Conference title and a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

One day after the death of legendary coach Bo Schembechler, the Wolverines will take on the Buckeyes in the biggest "Big Game."

It will be first meeting between the teams as Nos. 1 and 2 in the rankings, but the build-up to the game took a sad turn Friday when Schembechler - Michigan's all-time winningest coach - died of heart failure at 77 after collapsing prior to a television taping.

A moment of silence will be held before the game for Schembechler, who also was an assistant on Woody Hayes' staff at Ohio State from 1958-62.

"It's ironic that on the eve of the Michigan-Ohio State game that Bo and Woody will be reunited once again to battle over the outcome of the Michigan-Ohio State game," former Wolverines quarterback and current San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Michigan leads the series, 57-39-6, but Ohio State is 4-1 since Jim Tressel took over before the 2001 season, including a 25-21 victory in Ann Arbor last season in which the Buckeyes rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit.

The Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) are led by Heisman Trophy favorite Troy Smith, who is 2-0 starting against Michigan and threw for four touchdowns in a 54-10 road rout of Northwestern last week.

Despite having had to replace nine starters on defense - including its entire linebacking corps - the Buckeyes are yielding the fewest points of any team in the nation (7.82 per game). They also rank 11th in rushing defense (90.18 yards) and eighth in total defense (261.73).

The Wolverines (11-0, 7-0) are arguably more stout defensively, leading the country in rushing yards allowed (29.9) and ranking third in total yards yielded (231.45). They also are fifth in scoring defense (12.09).

A junior, Mike Hart ranks sixth in the nation in rushing (124.82) and ran for 92 yards and a touchdown before sitting out much of the second half in a 34-3 road win over Indiana last weekend. But he has struggled against the Buckeyes, gaining just 61 yards on 18 carries here two years ago and - hampered by an ankle injury - only 15 on nine rushes last year.

While Hart is the focal point of the Wolverine offense, the most dangerous player is sophomore receiver Mario Manningham. An Ohio native who had nine touchdown catches in his first six games, he has just two receptions without a TD in two contests since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. But his presence against the Hoosiers opened up the passing game for quarterback Chad Henne, who threw a 62-yard touchdown to Steve Breaston, a senior who also had an 83-yard punt return for a score.

No matter how the game plays out, there are a couple certainties: It will be a tough, physical matchup, and there will be a lot of pressure on everybody involved.

"I think all the kids will handle it differently," Tressel said. "The guys playing for the last time have a different set of circumstances. The guys younger who might not even be getting into the game, they'll probably be just staring around the stadium.

"There's such a broad view of how they'll handle it, but I promise you this, every one of them will remember it, and you talk about a privilege to play in a game like the Ohio State-Michigan game, forget our records, and then to play in one where the records are as they are, I think every one of the kids will remember it forever and everyone will handle it differently, but it will be an exciting day for all of us."

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