It’s hard to imagine a game with more on the line than tomorrow’s showdown between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan.

Jessica Boullion
TOP: Wolverine quarterback Chad Henne. BOTTOM: Buckeye leader and Heisman candidate Troy Smith. (TOP PHOTO BY TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily, BOTTOM BY ASSOCIATED PRESS)

An outright Big Ten title.

A possible Heisman Trophy for the winning team’s offensive star (Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Michigan’s Mike Hart).

And, most important, a berth in the National Championship game.

With so much at stake, the mania surrounding college football’s greatest rivalry has never been bigger.

And the Wolverines know they’re going to hear it from Buckeye fans as soon as they set foot in Columbus for the 103rd meeting between the teams.

“We’re not going to have many fans there . so it’s just us against the whole stadium, pretty much,” senior co-captain LaMarr Woodley said. “We know it’s going to be rowdy. From the bus ride, it’s always loud. . When you get off the bus, they’re yelling. When you’re on the field, they’re yelling. When you leave the stadium, they’re yelling.”

The Buckeye faithful are notorious for making Ohio Stadium one of the nation’s most hostile road environments, especially when the visiting squad is sporting maize and blue.

Quarterback Chad Henne remembers trying to have a conversation with the person next to him as he sat on the sideline during the Wolverines’ last trip to Columbus, a 37-21 loss in 2004. Then a freshman, Henne couldn’t be heard unless he screamed as loud as he could.

And a spot in the National Championship game wasn’t even up for grabs then.

When asked to describe the atmosphere in the Horseshoe, fifth-year senior Rueben Riley offered up just two words: loud and unfriendly.

Even though the stadium will probably be even louder and more unfriendly than usual, Michigan believes it can handle the noise. Most of its starters have already lined up in front of the infamous Buckeye crowd during their careers.

“Other than playing an outstanding football team, the great challenge is playing in a stadium that is so loud,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Having been there, they know that. They’ve seen the colors; they’ve heard the band; they’ve seen those jerseys. So those things aren’t new to them. . I think for those that have been there, that’s an advantage.”

In a game of this magnitude, it’s safe to say both teams will be looking for any edge they can get.

After all, even when The Game isn’t being touted as The Game of the Century, it’s still the biggest contest on either team’s schedule. From 1972 to 1981, the showdown decided which squad would earn a Rose Bowl berth.

Some things never change. Only this time around, the loser will disappointedly ring in the New Year in Pasadena.

That’s something the Wolverines would like to avoid this season, the seniors especially. After Michigan’s last two classes couldn’t beat Ohio State in their final try, this year’s group would love to go out with arguably the biggest win over the Buckeyes ever.

“You just see a sickening feeling in the face of those guys, and you know you don’t want to feel that way,” Riley said. “Just looking at them and seeing how that affected them, I don’t want to feel like that on my way out.”

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