Nothing stands between Ohio State and Michigan

Updated: November 14, 2006, 4:37 PM ET
By David Albright | ESPN.com

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Bucknuts got their money's worth.

More than 20,000 scarlet-clad Ohio State fans invaded Chicago's North Shore in part because it's infinitely easier to find a ticket at Ryan Field (capacity: 47,130) than it is to find one at Ohio Stadium (102,329).

The other reason: a chance to see the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in their final tune-up before next Saturday's regular-season finale against No. 2 Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

And thanks to three first-quarter Wildcats turnovers that quickly were converted to three touchdowns, Ohio State rolled to a 54-10 win over Northwestern.

In addition to a complete recovery from the hangover that followed a 17-10 win at Illinois on Nov. 4, Ohio State now can turn its complete attention to Michigan -- which won 34-3 at Indiana.

Troy Smith
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTroy Smith had no problems Saturday with a thumb injury.

The 103rd meeting -- and most important in decades -- between the Buckeyes (11-0) and the Wolverines (11-0) is now fair game to discuss because it's finally the next one of the schedule.

Let the countdown to Columbus -- and the accompanying cacophony of hype -- begin.

"The Ohio State-Michigan game is always the biggest game," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "It doesn't matter what the records are or what's on the table for the outcome. The fact that it's 1 vs. 2, we think that's the way it should be.

"This is the Ohio State-Michigan game. It really isn't about the BCS or anything else. It's about the Big Ten Conference and playing against your rival."

The good news for the Buckeyes is that they will enter The Game with a lot of momentum.

Heisman front-runner Troy Smith, who earlier in the week admitted to playing with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, showed no ill effects and tied a career high by throwing four touchdowns (to three receivers) on 12-of-19 passing for 185 yards.

"This is the Ohio State-Michigan game. It really isn't about the BCS or anything else. It's about the Big Ten Conference and playing against your rival."
-- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel

In addition to reliable outlets Ted Ginn Jr. (2-40, 1 TD) and Anthony Gonzalez (2-34, 1 TD), Smith (24-2 as a starter) also found Brian Hartline (3-47) for the first two TDs of the freshman's career.

Ohio State also put up 231 rushing yards, led by Chris Wells (99 yards, 1 TD) and Antonio Pittman (80 yards, 1 TD), who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season -- the first Buckeye to do that since Eddie George in 1994-95.

"It just shows you how many weapons we have on this offense," Pittman said. "There's so many guys who deserve the ball, but there's only one football and you have to wait your turn."

The better news for Tressel and his staff is that there is still plenty to work on this week, so that should help to keep the players' attention.

Antonio Pittman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAntonio Pittman went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season Saturday.

"Obviously, we turned it over a couple of times, which we've got to straighten out," Tressel said. "That can't happen next week."

And the Buckeyes' defense, which came in giving up just 258 yards a game, surrendered 235 to Northwestern in the first half.

But it's hard to complain too much about a defense that came up with five turnovers.

"It was real hard for us to not look forward," said strong safety Brandon Mitchell, who picked off a C.J. Bacher pass in the first quarter and returned it 46 yards for a TD to give the Buckeyes that 21-0 lead. "We all know the importance of this game, and we know it's the biggest game that probably anyone on the team will ever play in -- at least we're going to approach it that way."

"It's called The Game for a reason," center Doug Datish said. "It's a privilege and an honor to be able to play in that game. It's going to be everything that it's made up to be and everything that's going to be talked about."

Game on.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.

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