Rivalry weekend displays college football's greatness
Posted: Friday November 18, 2005 12:28PM; Updated: Friday November 18, 2005 12:28PM
Rivalry weekend. It's my favorite Saturday of the college football season because it exemplifies what's so terrific about the sport. Tradition, pomp and circumstance and pure hatred for the opposition will be on display in stadiums across the country. Whether it's Ann Arbor, Auburn or Eugene, emotions will be on overload and the winning team will have bragging rights for the next year.
One note: There will be no Upset Special this week. After going through the stress of picking three last week (and watching two come through, I might add) I'm officially placing myself on Upset Probation.
(9) Ohio State vs. (17) Michigan
1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Michigan Stadium (111,000-plus)
Troy Smith will lead the Buckeyes to a victory over rival Michigan on Saturday and keep OSU's BCS hopes alive.
Harry How/Getty Images
It's been a strange year for Michigan. The Wolverines stumbled to a 3-3 start, losing three games by a total of 13 points, but have come back to win four straight. Michigan has as much talent as any team in the Big Ten, but it has also been inconsistent. Sophomore quarterback Chad Henne has been Exhibit A: He can look like Tom Brady one moment and John Navarre the next. Henne has good numbers (2,033 yards, 19 TDs) and a pair of talented receivers in Jason Avant (900 yards, 7 TDs) and freshman Mario Manningham (17.0 yards per catch, 5 TDs), but he doesn't have a home-run threat like he had with Braylon Edwards last season. The running game has been effective -- when the backs are healthy. Sophomore Michael Hart has missed the last 2 1/2 games with an ankle injury, but still leads the team with 543 yards and four TDs. Freshman Kevin Grady has had his moments, but he too has been injury-prone. Michigan must run the ball and control the clock in order to beat Ohio State.
The Wolverines have been solid defensively and fly to the ball. The strength of the unit is at linebacker, where LaMarr Woodley has a team-leading 14 tackles for loss, including five sacks, and David Harris has 76 tackles. Up front, the line is big and physical, with tackles Gabe Wilson and Pat Massey and end Alan Branch. The secondary, led by corner Grant Mason and safety Willis Barringeri, is experienced and doesn't give up a lot of big plays.
Ohio State has been dominant since losing at Penn State on Oct. 8, winning five straight and scoring 40 or more points four times. The Buckeyes' offense is extremely balanced, averaging 206.6 yards passing and 196.7 yards rushing per game. Dual threat quarterback Troy Smith (11-2 as a starter) leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency and has accounted for 15 touchdowns in the past six games, while running back Antonio Pittman has rushed for 1,110 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Wideout Santonio Holmes (42 catches, 781 yards 9 TDs) is a reliable and dangerous weapon as is Ted Ginn Jr.
The Buckeyes' defense has been fantastic and leads the conference in rushing, scoring, passing and total defense. Everything revolves around A.J. Hawk (102 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), the best linebacker in the nation. But Hawk is far from a one-man show as fellow linebackers Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel and end Mike Kudla have combined for 38 tackles for loss and 24 of Ohio State's 38 sacks.
There's always a lot at stake in the Big Game and the winner can capture the Big Ten title if Penn State loses. Ohio State has won three of the last four meetings, including a 37-21 victory in Columbus last year. This one figures to be close until the end, but Ohio State has more weapons on both sides of the ball and holds the edge on special teams. That's why the Buckeyes will beat the Wolverines in the Big House and improve their chance of getting a BCS bowl at-large berth.
CLICK BELOW FOR MORE OF B.J. SCHECTER'S WEEKEND PREVIEW