Breaking down the 104th installment of The Game.
Three things you should care about
1. Last week's lossess by both teams took away some of the luster, but there's still a ton on the line at The Big House. For the first time since 1959, both teams lost the game before their annual clash -- Juice Williams and Illinois put a major kink in the Buckeyes' BCS title game plans, while Wisconsin snapped the Wolverines' eight-game winning streak. But considering how unappealing this matchup was looking two weeks into the season (with conference favorite Michigan losing to Appalachian State and Oregon), having this one decide the Big Ten title for the 43rd time and a Rose Bowl bid -- which the BCS era has turned into a possible consolation prize for the Buckeyes, a notion that's enough to make Woody Hayes turn over in his grave -- brings fitting drama to college football's best rivalry.
2. Lloyd Carr's future is the biggest underlying story. The vultures have been circling the Michigan coach since that 0-2 start, making one wonder if The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go is running on repeat in the Michigan coach's Schembechler Hall office. According to MGoBlog, which cites three unnamed sources, Carr will announce his retirement next week. Whether there's any validity to those rumors or not, this is the biggest chance the Wolverines have to show the program isn't crumbling beneath Carr's feet. Michigan's heralded seniors repeatedly mentioned one huge goal before the season: beating the Buckeyes for the first time. They'll be focused on either sending Carr off in a blaze of glory, or reaffirming his coaching chops, whether he opts for retirement or not.
3. Ohio State's defense faded at the end of 2006. Should we be worried about that happening again? Last season, the Buckeyes entered the Michigan game allowing 7.8 points and 261 yards a game, then proceeded to yield 39 points and 397 to the Wolverines. Seven weeks later, they gave up 41 points to Florida in the national title game. Ohio State went into last Saturday's game No. 1 in scoring defense (9.7 ppg), rush defense (65) and total defense (221), then watched Illinois put up 28 points, 260 rushing yards and 400 total yards. Most alarmingly, the Illini exposed a front four that had just one tackle. (Though it was the first time this season the Buckeyes had faced a spread option team and a run-first QB.) But unlike last season, when the Buckeyes had a long break between their regular season finale and the national title game, they have a chance to atone for their lackluster performance immediately. They face a Wolverines attack that's far different and more conventional than the Illini and could be without RB Mike Hart (high right-ankle sprain) and QB Chad Henne (right shoulder injury). In a move fitting the Cold War tactics that come with the matchup, Carr has been non-committal on each player's status.