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Michigan aims for feel-good win vs. OSU

Let's be clear: a win against Ohio State won't salvage Michigan's season.

The Wolverines still would have six losses on their record, including three defeats of 21 points or more. They would still finish no better than 2-6 in Big Ten play for the second straight year. They would still have a ton of blemishes on defense that couldn't be washed away. They would still be nowhere near the league championship.

Here's what a Michigan victory Saturday against its heavily favored archrival would do:

  • End the program's first five-game slide against Ohio State, a losing streak that stretches back to Nov. 22, 2003, nearly 2,200 days ago

  • All but assure Michigan of its first bowl appearance since the 2008 Capital One Bowl

  • Ensure Michigan didn't finish last in the Big Ten for the first time since 1962

  • Give Michigan its first win against an FBS opponent since Sept. 26 (Indiana)

  • Allow a group of players and coaches who have seemingly been under siege all season a few moments to exhale and celebrate

Perhaps the last point is the most vital.

"More than anything, from a selfish standpoint, [a win] would allow us as players and coaches to feel good for the first time in a long time, and let our seniors to feel good," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Singing that fight song in the locker room and in front of the student section is, to me, the greatest thrill that we have in coaching and probably in playing.

"It would, more than anything, let our guys have some enjoyment for a change."

Rodriguez spoke candidly this week about the toll the team's struggles are taking on him and his family. Though Michigan AD Bill Martin and university president Mary Sue Coleman have reiterated their support for the coach, a second consecutive losing season combined with the ongoing NCAA investigation into the football program would keep Rodriguez's seat very warm.

A win Saturday would cool things down a bit.

"It eats at your soul because I don't coach football, I live it," Rodriguez said. "My family lives it, every one of our staff's family lives it as well. ... If you love it that much and you put so much into it, you don't have success, it certainly eats at you.

"I'm not used to this. My staff is not used to it. So it just gnaws you to the bone."

For Michigan's small senior class, like their predecessors last year, Saturday's game represents one final chance to beat Ohio State. Several seniors called a players-only meeting Monday to discuss what the game means.

Getting bowl eligible would be nice, and getting over the hump against the Buckeyes carries even more weight.

"What's a better way than to beat O-State and get into a bowl game off them," Wolverines defensive end Brandon Graham told reporters Monday. "That would feel so much better and everything else would erase itself. You're always thinking about, we might have had a bad year but we beat O-State."

Both Rodriguez and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel downplayed the effect The Game has on recruiting. But for a Michigan program still very much in transition, a victory Saturday would give Rodriguez and his assistants a strong selling point that progress is, in fact, being made.

When the team met Monday, the message was simple.

"If we’re going to put it all together," Rodriguez said, "let’s do it this week."