Attention turns quickly to 'Ohio'

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The date -- Nov. 26, 2011 -- has been marked off on the Michigan football team's calendar since coach Brady Hoke and Co. arrived in Ann Arbor.

The time has come to play Ohio State (6-5), or as Hoke refers to his school's archrival, simply "Ohio."

It was harped on during every preseason meeting and during fall camp.

Hoke even installed a countdown clock on the wall at the front of Schembechler Hall to reminde every player when he walked in the building when they'd be playing in their biggest game of the year.

"It's right in your face," sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint said. "You can't miss it."

There are other countdown clocks in the building, including one for the Wolverines' matchup with Michigan State. Michigan (9-2) lost that game 28-14. But with the Wolverines' win over Nebraska and Michigan State's win over Indiana, the Spartans secured their top finish in the Legends Division of the Big Ten and a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game.

The Wolverines' goal of winning the conference will not happen this season. But with the final regular season game looming and coming off their most complete game of the season, they have a good chance to finish out the season surpassing everyone's expectations but their own.

A BCS bowl game remains a possibility with a win over the Buckeyes. That it could come while also ending Ohio State's seven-game winning streak in the rivalry would make it only that much sweeter.

Several players said they would enjoy the Wolverines' 45-17 win over Nebraska on Saturday night, but by Sunday morning, they would move on to Ohio State.

"We appreciate it always being played at the end of November," Hoke said. "We have tremendous respect for that football team and that program and that school."

Unlike recent seasons, the Buckeyes head into the rivalry game with a worse record than the Wolverines after losses to Penn State and Purdue. They are just 1-3 on the road.

The Buckeyes have struggled to establish an offensive rhythm and have put the offense in the hands of true freshman Braxton Miller. Miller is a dual-threat player who has posted two 100-yard rushing games but completes only 50 percent of his passes.

Ohio State might be on the winning side of the rivalry recently, but this year's Buckeyes team looks very different without former coach Jim Tressel and former quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

The Wolverines look very different, too.

"This is a new year and really our mindset is completely changed 360 [degrees]," defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "This senior group and this team knew from day one when Coach Hoke and the staff came that we were going to have to buy in. We know we're getting better but the season is far from being over."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.