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Team must remain focused



Published: Fri, October 27, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Buckeyes still have three games before the showdown with Michigan.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Like two runaway locomotives on a collision course, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan are rapidly drawing closer.

But before they can get to their Nov. 18 showdown at Ohio Stadium, each has three teams -- none with a winning record -- to get through.

The Buckeyes (8-0) preach playing a game at a time, focusing on the moment and not looking ahead, but like all 19- and 20-year-old kids, they watch "SportsCenter," check out Web sites and read the newspaper.

"We know Michigan is a great football team and after our game we might catch up on some games they might be playing later on Saturday," Ohio State defensive back Antonio Smith said.

"We've seen the rankings but that doesn't mean anything to us. We have to get better as a team and go out and get ready for Minnesota this week."

Gophers struggling

Ah, yes. Minnesota, which comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday. The Golden Gophers (3-5) are winless in the Big Ten and needed a blocked field goal on the final play last week to hold off I-AA North Dakota State, 10-9.

Since beating No. 24 Iowa to close out five difficult games (against three ranked opponents) in September, it's almost as if the Buckeyes have had to play a series of Minnesotas. First they beat Bowling Green, 35-7, and Michigan State, 38-7, then pounded Indiana, 44-3, last week.

The Golden Gophers are perceptive enough to recognize that they are mere appetizers for the entree wearing maize and blue.

"We're just the next team that they play, and they're the next team that we play," Minnesota linebacker Mike Sherels said.

"So we're not going to worry about them playing [Michigan] later on this year. It wouldn't necessarily be bad for us to have them worrying about that, but I don't think that's the attitude they're going to approach it with."

What's remaining

After Minnesota, the Buckeyes hit the road to play Illinois (2-6) and Northwestern (2-6) before finally getting to The Game.

Tailback Antonio Pittman said he was aware that the Michigan game was fast approaching.

"We're really not focusing on that right now," he said. "We've got Minnesota and we've got a couple more games until we get to that one and we have to focus on all of them to get to that one."

Michigan (8-0) must take on Northwestern and Ball State (2-6) at the Big House before traveling to Indiana (4-4). Next comes the trip to Columbus.

Neither coach Lloyd Carr nor any of the Wolverines mentioned the Buckeyes when they met with reporters this week. But it's only human nature if they, like the Buckeyes, kept an eye peeled for what their chief rivals are up to.

Even Tressel, who seldom admits that any other team exists other than the next one on the schedule, is willing to concede that the Michigan game is almost always on his players' minds.

"Even in spring practice where you tell them to be focused on today's practice, I think there's a little part of them that that's the reason they came to Ohio State or that's the reason they went to Michigan -- to play in games like that," he said.




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