tampabay.com

Hype takes a pause to reflect

Bo Schembechler's death reduces talk, but not the meaning of Ohio State-Michigan.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published November 18, 2006


COLUMBUS, Ohio - The game of the year in college football has yet another storyline - a sad one.

The first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup between Ohio State and Michigan comes a day after the Wolverines lost their most celebrated leader, Bo Schembechler, who died Friday at age 77 (Obituary, 10C).

Now, the second-ranked Wolverines enter today's showdown, with the Big Ten title, a spot (or two) in the national championship game and perhaps the Heisman Trophy at stake, with heavy hearts.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, a Schembechler protege, declined to speak with the media when he arrived with his team at Ohio Stadium on Friday.

The Wolverines (11-0, 7-0) went through a quiet 25-minute walkthrough, putting the finishing touches on their preparation for the top-ranked Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0).

Schembechler brought Carr to Michigan as an assistant in 1980, and Carr was promoted to head coach in 1995. But Schembechler was never far from the program or Carr. Carr's office is in Schembechler Hall, right down the hall from his former boss.

Schembechler's Wolverines were 11-9-1 against Ohio State, but Carr, who won the national title in 1997 that always eluded Schembechler, hasn't fared so well against the Buckeyes lately. Carr's Wolverines have lost four of five to OSU since Jim Tressel took over as coach in Columbus.

Carr's nemesis

Carr has drawn the ire of impatient Michigan fans for being on the short end too often against the hated Buckeyes. Winning one for Bo today - especially one this big - would no doubt appease many critics.

It's hardly fair considering these Buckeyes might be the most talented Tressel has coached, including the squad that won the 2002 national championship.

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith directs one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and he has been at his best against Michigan the last two seasons.

"My success is credited to everybody else around me," Smith said. "It's not just that I'm 2-0 against Michigan. Everybody who has played on the field against them is 2-0."

True, but no one is more responsible for that 2-0 against the maize and blue than the multitalented Smith.

He passed for 241 yards, ran for a career-high 145 and accounted for three touchdowns in Ohio State's 37-21 upset of Michigan in Columbus two years ago.

Last season, Smith threw for 300 yards, ran for a touchdown and led two late scoring drives to beat the Wolverines 25-21.

If Smith has another magical day against Michigan, the senior can all but wrap up the Heisman Trophy race. Smith has thrown 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season and has completed 66 percent of his throws.

"First of all, he's a great leader for their offense," said Michigan linebacker David Harris, the leading tackler on a unit ranked No. 1 in the country against the run. "He has a great arm. He has good mobility in the pocket. He's their guy."

Other keys

He's not their only guy.

Speedster Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez make up one of the country's best receiving duos. Antonio Pittman has run for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"You can't really just focus on one guy," said Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley, who leads the team with 11 sacks. "It's an all-around team. They have other weapons in there."

Woodley is the catalyst for a tenacious defense that has 41 sacks and is allowing 29.9 yards per game on the ground.

"It's safe to say he's probably the best defensive end in college football," said Ohio State offensive lineman T.J. Downing, whose father, Walter, was a captain on Schembechler's 1977 team. "So we're just going to have to get after him. We're going to have to hit him in the mouth every play and just go from there.

Ticket frenzy

Tickets prices for the game are surpassing those for the World Series and matching lower-end Super Bowl tickets on Internet resale sites.

The average ticket price for the game in Columbus is $835, according to Jennifer Swanson, a spokeswoman for Ticketsnow.com in Crystal Lake, Ill., just outside Chicago. The least expensive ticket sold for the 2006 Super Bowl was $770, while the average price of a baseball World Series seat was $612.

"Without a doubt, this is the biggest seller of the year," Swanson told Bloomberg in a telephone interview. "This is the hottest college football ticket we've ever seen."

Tickets for OSU games have face values of $59 for the general public, $48 for faculty and staff, and $29 for students.

Two tickets with "good views" were selling for as much as $3,200 on eBay Friday. By comparison, the game in Ann Arbor last year sold for an average $415.

Tickets for the NBA Finals averaged $513, and a seat at the NHL's Stanley Cup finals went for $501, Swanson said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.