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Game's hype proportions grow



Published: Tue, October 24, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Not even "Snakes on a Plane" got this much advance publicity.

No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan are a little less than a month away from their annual Big Ten grudge match, and it's all football fans in Columbus and Ann Arbor are talking about.

The players and coaches are another matter.

The winner of the Nov. 18 showdown in Ohio Stadium will most certainly play in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 8 in Arizona. Maybe even the loser, too.

The Wolverines have three other games left. So do the Buckeyes. Mere formalities, really.

Think no-lead-is-safe Northwestern is going to get in the way of the Game of Century? The Wildcats, having just blown the biggest lead in major college football to Michigan State, play Michigan next week and the Buckeyes on Nov. 11.

Remaining opponents

The Wolverines (8-0, 5-0) also play Ball State -- not even Cardinals alum David Letterman could come up with 10 ways for Ball State to beat Michigan -- and Indiana. Yep, the same Hoosiers who lost 44-3 to the Buckeyes on Saturday.

The Buckeyes get Minnesota at home next week. The Gophers nearly lost at home to North Dakota State on Saturday. Next!

The week after that, the Buckeyes travel to Champaign, Ill. Ron Zook has better chance of being elected mayor of Gainesville, Fla., than getting his Illini to beat Jim Tressel's Buckeyes.

Tressel, Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr and their teams are sticking to the appropriate talking points. "The next game is the most important game," they say.

But even as they desperately try to stick to the script, cracks are revealed.

"We don't live in a vacuum," Carr said after Michigan dusted off Iowa on Saturday. "We know what's out there, and it's exciting to be there. We won't deny that. But the job isn't finished."

The Hawkeyes represented the last reasonable chance for either the Wolverines or Buckeyes to lose before Nov. 18.

Iowa made Michigan work, but the Wolverines' sledgehammer of a defense kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone and UM tailback Mike Hart -- at 5-foot-9, the smallest battering ram in the country -- scored two second-half TDs to give the Wolverines a 20-6 victory.

Potent offense

In Columbus, Troy Smith, Ted Ginn. Jr. and Ohio State's flying circus offense were putting together a highlight-reel victory against Indiana.

Smith threw four more touchdown passes, dancing away from pass rushers and flicking darts down field. The speedy Ginn even showed off his arm, tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass.

Maybe Tressel was giving Wolverines defensive coordinator Ron English something to think about. When Michigan actually starts thinking about Ohio State, that is.

Because for now, it's all about Northwestern next week for the Wolverines.

Yeah, right.

You guys take 'em one at a time. The rest of us are already delving into the juicy possibilities of a second No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of the season, and all the BCS what-ifs that go with it.

Here's the best one: What if Michigan and Ohio State play a close game? An overtime classic -- a one-point fantastic finish decided by a last-second score?

What if the winner is the only unbeaten team left when the regular season ends Dec. 2?

Could Nov. 18 just be Round 1 between Michigan and Ohio State, a rematch coming in Glendale, Ariz., with the national title on the line?

Really, it's not that crazy an idea.

The unbeatens

There are only seven unbeaten teams left in Division I-A: Michigan, Ohio State, three Big East teams (Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers), USC and Boise State.

Boise State doesn't count in this discussion and the Big East schools all play each other. USC still must play California and Notre Dame.

Can the college football world handle Wolverines-Buckeyes II?

It'd certainly go over better than "Snakes on a Plane II."

Heisman watch

One voter's ballot if the season ended today (and thank goodness it doesn't):

1) Troy Smith, qb, Ohio State. Still the front-runner.

2) Brady Quinn, qb, Notre Dame. He's now led two fourth-quarter comeback wins.

3) James Davis, rb, Clemson. Adrian Peterson clone.

Out: Calvin Johnson, wr, Georgia Tech and Adrian Peterson, rb, Oklahoma.

Under consideration: LaMarr Woodley, de, Michigan; Marshawn Lynch, rb, Cal; Ray Rice, rb, Rutgers.

Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso@ap.org.




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