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November 15, 2006
And then there were two: Ohio State and Michigan have arrived for their appointed matchup carrying 11-0 records. It's the most anticipated game of the season. Both teams regained some lost swagger last Saturday, with the Buckeyes blasting Northwestern and the Wolverines routing Indiana. The winner of this game will claim the conference championship outright.
The last time: The last time two Big Ten teams ranked first and second in the nation played each other came on Oct. 19, 1985, when top-ranked Iowa beat second-ranked Michigan, 12-10. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have never met when both composed the top two.
Best matchup: The Ohio State offensive line vs. the Michigan defensive line. Center Doug Datish is the main man for the Buckeyes. Defensive end LaMarr Woodley is the key cog for the Wolverines. Datish and Co. will have to create some running lanes and protect Troy Smith. That is much easier said than done.
Worst matchup: The Purdue passing offense vs. the Indiana pass defense. The Boilermakers are tops in the conference and sixth in the nation at 288.7 yards per game. The Hoosiers are ninth in the conference and 94th in the nation, surrendering 225.3 yards per game. IU has given up 20 touchdown passes in its past seven games.
The pressure is on: Terry Hoeppner and Glen Mason. The Hoosiers have a bowl bid on the line, as well as the Old Oaken Bucket, at Purdue. IU has been a strange team in league play. It has won three times, but in its four losses the average margin has been a whopping 36 points. This is a heated intrastate rivalry, and it will take a big effort from the young Hoosiers to make it to the postseason for the first time since 1993. For Mason, he and the Golden Gophers are looking to keep alive a bowl streak that stands at four. They'll need to beat Iowa at home to make it five.
Upset alert: It would be hard to call a Michigan victory an upset, but it technically would be since Ohio State is favored. The Wolverines have a chance, especially if they can get to Troy Smith and not allow him get comfortable against a suspect secondary.
BCS implications: If Michigan and Ohio State play a close game, it's conceivable they could meet again for the national championship.
Who's hot: Illinois running back Pierre Thomas is averaging 9.4 yards per carry in his past two games. ? Purdue wide receiver Dorien Bryant has 16 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns in his past two games. ? Ohio State is tied for the nation's lead in interceptions with 21, including at least one in every game this season and eight in the past four games.
Who's not: Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley has only three tackles with no sacks in his past two games. ? Illinois has lost at least one fumble and thrown at least one interception in five consecutive games. The Illini's turnover margin during the stretch is minus-10 (18-8).
Must-see TV: The Ohio State-Michigan game is on ABC, with kickoff at 3:45 Eastern. The network is planning to come on for a pregame show at 2:30. The crew calling the game is composed of Brent Musburger on play-by-play, analysts Bob Davie and Kirk Herbstreit, and sideline reporters Lisa Salters and Erin Andrews.
Newcomer who could have an impact: If the Ohio State-Michigan game comes down to a field goal, the Wolverines certainly have to believe they have an advantage. They have veteran kicker Garrett Rivas, who recently became the Maize and Blue's all-time leading scorer. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes will trot out redshirt freshman Aaron Pettrey - a former walk-on. Pettrey has made eight of 11 field goals, including a 51-yarder. He has made his last five field-goal attempts, including the 51-yarder and a 50-yarder.
Key stat: Michigan has scored first in 10 of its 11 games this season.
Take the line: Northwestern is a home underdog against Illinois. This is a little-known trophy game, for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk. The Wildcats have shown some signs of life on offense since C.J. Bacher has taken over at quarterback, and they should feel slighted by being an underdog at home to the Illini. Go with NU getting 2? points. Season against the line: 7-4.
They said it: "You can feel the electricity and the energy and you can't quantify it, but you can feel it. I remember my first game as an assistant thinking I was preparing for just another game as a coach, and then all of a sudden you got into the environment, and I've mentioned before, I wasn't worth a hoot probably the first quarter because I was just in awe of the feeling. I probably wasn't worth a hoot in the fourth quarter either, but it's just a tremendous feeling to be a part of something that so many people are excited about and so many people count as special." ? Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel
"The battle coming up won't be forgotten. Legends are made in this game. Every guy knows they have a chance to go down in the record books and make history. The offense blocks as hard as we can and does the best job we can. In the end, if something breaks down you expect to see something special out of Troy (Smith). It is his senior year, so I would expect to see something amazing out of him." ? Buckeyes guard T.J. Downing
Injury update: Penn State coach Joe Paterno missed last week's Temple game after breaking a bone in his leg the previous week. It was Paterno's first missed game since 1977, when his son was in an accident. The Penn State coach is likely to return this week for the Michigan State game, albeit in a coaching booth in the press box. ? Penn State offensive tackle John Shaw (knee) is doubtful. ? Wisconsin QB John Stocco's streak of 35 consecutive starts ended when he did not suit up for last week's' victory at Iowa. His status is uncertain for this week, though the Badgers should have little trouble at home against Buffalo. ? Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton is questionable for the Penn State game after leaving last week's game in the first half because of dizziness. Sophomore Brian Hoyer is the backup.
Worth noting: As has become tradition recently, former Ohio State players will form a tunnel for the Buckeyes to run through when they enter the field before the game with Michigan. The list of returnees includes 94-year-old William H. "Tippy" Dye, who played from 1934-36. Dye, who later served as the Buckeyes' basketball coach and was athletics director at Northwestern, lives in Los Angeles. ? Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith is 24-2 as a starter. He is OSU's all-time leader in completion percentage. ? Ohio State's 18-game winning streak is the nation's longest. ? Michigan has the nation's second-longest winning streak, 11 games. ? Since 1935, the Buckeyes and the Wolverines have both entered their annual season-finale showdown undefeated only twice. Ohio State won in 1970 and the teams tied in 1973. ? The Wolverines are 3-15-1 all time vs. top-ranked teams, including zero for their last seven. None of their three victories against No. 1 teams has come on the road. ? Penn State running back Tony Hunt established his career high last week with 167 rushing yards (and three touchdowns on just 16 carries) against Temple. ? The Nittany Lions have allowed just 16 points in the first quarter all season. ? The Northwestern-Illinois game is the 100th between the teams. The Illini lead the series 51-43-5.
Looking back: Troy Smith threw four touchdown passes as No. 1 Ohio State ripped Northwestern 54-10. ? No. 2 Michigan had five sacks and limited Indiana to 131 total yards in a 34-3 shellacking. ? Backup quarterback Tyler Donovan got his first start and guided Wisconsin past Iowa 24-21 by completing 17 of 24 for 228 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. ? Minnesota scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to down Michigan State 31-18. ? Penn State crushed winless Temple 47-0 for its second shutout this season. ? Purdue tied a season high with 202 rushing yards as it beat Illinois 42-31.
Freshmen who impressed: Juice Williams set an Illinois quarterback record for rushing with 145 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Purdue. ? Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill had 98 total yards and a touchdown against Iowa.
Bowl watch: Ohio State (11-0), Michigan (11-0), Wisconsin (10-1), Penn State (7-4), Purdue (7-4) and Iowa (6-5) are eligible. Indiana (5-6) and Minnesota (5-6) are one win away from earning a spot in the postseason.