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Michigan game hasn't lost meaning for Buckeyes

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A share of the Big Ten title is still out there for Ohio State. So is a potential BCS berth, automatic or at large.

All that remains is a team that just suffered its school-record eighth loss, a team that barely resembles the arch-rival Ohio State faces on the final Saturday of every season.

If there was ever a time to reflect a bit on the bigger picture, Saturday afternoon was it. But Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel and his players remain single-minded.

"It's not about the Big Ten title," running back Chris "Beanie" Wells said. "It's not about where we go in the BCS. It's about Ohio State-Michigan."

Before the season, Ohio State discussed two goals: Winning a third consecutive outright Big Ten title and beating Michigan for the fifth consecutive time. The first objective is off the table, but the second remains.

None of the current Buckeyes players has ever lost to Michigan, and they have no plans to start now.

"It's important to both teams," head coach Jim Tressel said. "BCS stuff and bowl stuff and Big Ten stuff, is really second compared to the Ohio State-Michigan game. Usually at the end of that game, you find out what you've earned for the season. But the Ohio State-Michigan game is a season unto itself."

It's quite literally one for Michigan, which stumbles into Ohio Stadium at 3-8 after Saturday's loss to Northwestern. The Wolverines have ensured their first losing season since 1967 and their first bowl-less season since 1974.

A long, lonely winter awaits head coach Rich Rodriguez and his players, but they could momentarily dull the pain by beating a vastly superior Ohio State team in Columbus.

"It's a huge chance for them to kind of regain their season and get them started on the right foot," Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "They're not going to a bowl game, so it's all or nothing, the last game.

"They have a great chance to knock us off and kind of launch them into the '09 year."

Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will get his first taste of one of college football's greatest rivalries next week. Pryor also will share the field with Rodriguez, who came close to landing him during a prolonged recruitment.

Pryor hasn't spoken to Rodriguez since hours before he committed to Ohio State. His father was the one who actually called Rodriguez, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and others to tell them they had lost the Pryor sweepstakes.

"It was kind of hard to say no to them," Pryor said, "so I had my father call them."

Asked how much better Michigan would have fared this season had he went there, Pryor replied, "I can't answer that. I'm here."

And so is the Michigan game, no matter how watered-down it seems.

"You always think about Michigan," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "You always watch to see what they're doing because that's such a big rivalry. Finally, we can actually concentrate on Michigan because it's Michigan week."