Rivalry to decide Big Ten champ

first_imgAs the 2007 football season winds down, the lone Saturday remaining onthe Big Ten’s regular season schedule is arguably its most exciting.This is rivalry week, and for many schools — even those floundering atthe bottom of the conference ranks — this final weekend serves as anopportunity to recapture some much needed pride.In the case of Ohio State and Michigan — to fight for a championshiptrophy.”We’re excited about taking part in the greatest rivalry in collegefootball,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said during the conference’sweekly teleconference. “We’re anxious to get back on the field and anxious tobe a part of this great game and the pageantry and excitement that surroundsit.”Saturday’s matchup between Tressel’s 10-1 Buckeyes and the 8-3Wolverines is the 104th meeting of the teams. This year, like in many yearspast, the winner will be crowned Big Tenchampion. Both squads are 6-1 in conference play, and both are coming off upsetlosses at the hands of Illinois and Wisconsin, respectively.One of the key factors in Saturday’s historic matchup will be thepresence — or possible lack thereof — of Michigan’s starting quarterback ChadHenne and running back Mike Hart. Both players have had injury-plagued 2007seasons.According to head coach Lloyd Carr, both will be game-time decisions.”If you look at the history of this season as far as those two kids andtheir injuries, it’s really been a decision made very, very late in the weekeach week, so I don’t see that changing,” Carr said.But Jim Tressel isn’t buying Carr’s indecisiveness.”We know they’re going to play, simply because they’re great kids,”Tressel said. “Those are as tough of guys as there are in college football …and unless some [doctor] tells them they’re not allowed, they’ll be out there.”Battle for the AxeWhile Ohio State and Michigan duke it out, the Badgers trek to Minnesotato battle the struggling Golden Gophers at the Minneapolis Metrodome, hoping tokeep Paul Bunyan’s axe on this side of the state line. Saturday will mark the117th time the Badgers have gone head-to-head with the Gophers, and coach BretBielema says he’s been emphasizing the importance of the game and its historyto his players this week, dubbing the matchup a “border war.””It means a lot for the fans and the alumni,” Bielema said. “We give ourguys an opportunity to touch the axe coming and going from the field … and it’ssomething at the end of the game to be able to carry it around and show it offto the crowd — it’s something special and we definitely emphasize that to ourplayers.”Minnesota head coach Jim Brewster agreed.”It’s a rivalry game. It’s very important toall Minnesotans and also people from the state of Wisconsin, so it [should] bean exciting day on Saturday,” Brewster said.Insearch of bowl berthsElsewhere in the Big Ten, a number of teams will be scratching andclawing just to reach a bowl game. The 2007 season marks the first time inconference history the Big Ten has had 10 teams eligible for bowl bids.Only the beleaguered Golden Gophers, with one win on the year and a 0-7conference record, are ineligible for a bowl.Postseason implications will be huge when Michigan State hosts PennState. The game will likely prove more crucial for Michigan State, which is 6-5overall but a paltry 2-5 in conference and needs a win to have a realistic shotat its first bowl appearance since 2003.The Nittany Lions (8-3 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) are looking for a possibleupgrade to one of the Big Ten’s coveted New Year’s Day bowl slots, pending avictory.Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa round out the remaining 10 teamswith at least six wins this season and bowl bids on the line.Indiana coach Bill Lynch echoed the overall sentiment of the rest of hisBig Ten colleagues, maintaining his team will put its heart and soul into itsfinal game, regardless of the current standings or the outcome.“Any rivalry game is important,” Lynch said. “Not only to the current players and coaches … but it means a great deal to all the former players and coaches and all of your alums. We’re certainly looking forward to the challenge.”last_img

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