It's a fall classic that galvanizes the heartland and divides neighbors - and sometimes husbands and wives. It's Michigan-Ohio State – and it should be a blowout.
Ohio State is rolling along with a 9-2 record and dreams of a BCS bid. A victory gives the Buckeyes at least a share of their fourth consecutive Big Ten championship; the winner of the Michigan State-Penn State game will claim a share of the league banner, too.
Michigan? It's awful, stumbling along with a 3-8 record. A loss won't make things any worse. Last week's home defeat to Northwestern officially stamped this as the worst season in school history. Never before has Michigan lost eight games in a season. The Ohio State game is an opportunity for the Wolverines to set the bar for ineptitude even lower.
But maybe Michigan can shock the world and topple Ohio State. Think USA over Russia … Chaminade over Virginia … Wile E. Coyote over Road Runner. Do you have a chance, coach Rich Rodriguez ?
"I've told the team – I said not a lot of people are going to expect you to do well and win the game, but we expect them to do well," Rodriguez said. "It's a challenge, but we are capable of playing pretty good football. We just have not done it consistently.
"I know that sounds like coach-speak, but if we can play consistently like we have at times this year and, you know, get a few breaks in there, anything can happen."
For his part, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is taking nothing for granted.
"Ohio State versus Michigan trumps everything. It trumps your record," he said. "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. I would like to think our guys understand that, but there's only one demonstration of understanding that and that's at 12 noon on Saturday."
It wasn't that long ago when these programs were battling each other with a BCS title-game berth on the line. Flash back to 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan 42-39.
Now, just two seasons later, look at the rivalry. Last season, Ohio State dumped Michigan 14-3 in Ann Arbor. And this year's meeting along the banks of the Olentangy River shapes up as a beatdown.
Thoughts of an Ohio State blowout have folks thinking back to 1968, when the Buckeyes crushed Michigan 50-14 in Columbus. Despite leading by 36 points late in the game, Woody Hayes went for a two-point conversion. Asked afterward why he did it, Hayes snapped, "Because I couldn't go for three."
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer vs. Penn State defensive line. It's this simple: If Ringer doesn't have room to run, the Spartans have no chance. The Nittany Lions rank first in the Big Ten and 10th in the country against the run (101.5 ypg), while Ringer is No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 3 in the nation in rushing (140.7 ypg). Something has to give.
PLAYER TO WATCH
This week, let's call this a "coach to watch." It's Joe Paterno. If Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions will win at least a share of the school's second Big Ten crown in the past four seasons. That only will strengthen his hold on a job that some school officials want him to relinquish. JoePa may be 81 and hobbling on a cane with a bum hip, but there's no way the Penn State brass can chase him out the door on the heels of what some consider to be the school's most impressive season since 1994.
After losing three in a row to fall to 3-3, Iowa has won four of its past five games, with the lone loss being a three-point setback at Illinois. … Iowa RB Shonn Greene has rushed for 100 yards in every game this season, gashing Purdue for 211 yards last week. He leads the Big Ten and ranks second in the nation in rushing, averaging 144.1 yards per game. Big Ten MVP, anyone? … Michigan State LB Greg Jones has notched double-digit tackles in each of the past five games. … Wisconsin finishes its regular season with a game against Cal Poly; the Badgers have won 19 non-conference games in a row, dating to a 2003 loss to UNLV. … Illinois C Ryan McDonald will make his 48th career start Saturday, tying the school record set by OL Tim Simpson (1988-91).
Illinois has lost its past two games, dropping to 5-6. That means Illinois must win at Northwestern to be bowl-eligible. … Michigan State's Rose Bowl dreams are faint. The Spartans need to win at Penn State and have Michigan prevail in Columbus. Michigan State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since the 1987 season, and it hasn't won the Big Ten since claiming a share of the 1990 title. … After bolting to a 7-1 start, Minnesota has lost three in a row. … After opening 2-1, Purdue has gone 1-7. Even with a victory over Indiana in coach Joe Tiller's last game, this will be the Boilermakers' worst season since a 3-8 record in 1996.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"It's amazing some of the things that people would say [on a message board] or yell at you of a personal nature. You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy." – Michigan's Rodriguez, on fans losing perspective during a rough debut season
"Maybe it took this kind of a year to absolutely convince me in my mind that I don't want to coach again because if we had won eight, nine or 10 games, I might have got to thinking, 'I can keep doing this someplace else.' But when you have a year like this it's like, 'Hey, I don't want to do this anymore. This hurts too much.' " – Purdue's Tiller, on if he's sure he wants to retire
"This team has no confidence, man. They're dead men walking." – ESPN analyst – and former Ohio State linebacker – Chris Spielman, on WBNS radio in Columbus when asked about Michigan
"I'm not rooting for Michigan. I'm going to focus on our task at hand and worry about the things we can control. I have too many good friends and too many people that wouldn't let me back into their house to let me do that." – Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, on if he will cheer for Michigan to beat Ohio State, which would open the door for the Spartans to go win the Big Ten if they beat Penn State
"The only thought I have on that is you can't be 10-2 until you're 9-2, and being 9-2 is going to be a challenge." – Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on if a 10-2 Buckeyes team deserves to go to a BCS bowl
Tiller's 12th and final season has been his worst, with the Boilermakers guaranteed just their second losing season of his tenure. But Tiller has a chance to leave on an up note by beating Indiana. Tiller has dominated the series, sporting a 9-2 mark against the Hoosiers. Indiana hasn't won in West Lafayette since 1996. … While Purdue bids adieu to Tiller, Minnesota will say "good riddance" to the Metrodome. Saturday's visit from Iowa will be the Golden Gophers' final game in the "Metro-tomb." And don't expect Goldy Gopher to shed any tears upon leaving a venue the school has called home since 1982. Minnesota will move to an on-campus stadium, 50,300-seat TCF Bank Stadium, next season. The last Big Ten school to build a new stadium was Indiana, whose Memorial Stadium opened in 1960. … Michigan QB Steven Threet may not play at Ohio State because of a shoulder injury. That means Nick Sheridan would start. … This is rivalry week. Indiana is at Purdue to battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Iowa plays at Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale. Illinois travels to Northwestern to tangle for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk. … Why is Wisconsin finishing the season vs. Cal Poly? The Badgers were supposed to play Virginia Tech in Madison on Sept. 20, but that would have preceded back-to-back-to-back league games against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. No way Bret Bielema wanted a four-game run like that, so the Hokies were dumped, an off-week was added Sept. 20 and Cal Poly was tacked on the end of the schedule. … Michigan State has lost seven in a row at Penn State. The Spartans' last victory in Beaver Stadium was in 1965, the year before Paterno took over. … Wisconsin RB P.J. Hill needs 38 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the third season in a row. … Illinois hasn't won at Northwestern since 2002. … Minnesota WR Eric Decker will play against Iowa after missing last week's game with an ankle injury. … Purdue QB Curtis Painter will start the final game of his career, though he still isn't 100 percent. He hasn't started since hurting his shoulder against Minnesota on Oct. 25.