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Buckeyes can#039;t escape hype

COLUMBUS -- No matter how hard the players from Ohio State and Michigan try, they cannot escape the hype surrounding their Saturday showdown.

''You turn on the radio to hear music and they're talking about it,'' Ohio State offensive tackle Shane Olivea said Monday. ''You turn on the TV -- any channel -- and on the news they're talking about it. The best thing you can do is to try to ignore it as much as possible. But to sit there and say that you're going to not listen and hear anything, it's kind of hard.''

By the time the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes host the No. 12 Wolverines on Saturday, participants and fans from both sides will be either jacked up or turned off by all of the words being thrown around in print and on the airwaves.

Players from both teams struggled Monday to put the game into perspective while they struggled to find words to describe just how big of a game ''The Game'' is. Dozens of reporters assailed both teams during interview sessions.

''I think it's really big because of the implications that it has,'' Michigan safety Charles Drake said. ''Every year we play Ohio State it's big, but this one seems a little bigger because they're undefeated and they beat us last year.''

Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel covered both ends of the hype spectrum.

''It's a huge game for us, the biggest game that anyone on this football team has ever played in their entire life. Hands down, there's no question about that,'' he said.

Then he added, ''But I'm just viewing it as another game against another great football team.''

The Buckeyes are 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in the polls and in the BCS rankings. They need a win to maintain their perfect record and a spot in the national championship game Jan. 3 in the Fiesta Bowl. A victory would also give them a share of the Big Ten title with Iowa.

Michigan (9-2) must win to improve its lot in the bowls and, of course, to ruin the high hopes of the Buckeyes.

Cornerback Marlin Jackson said there is nothing he would like better than to wreck Ohio State's season, but his coach and teammates said that that was not a motivating factor for the Wolverines.

''Our team set goals in training camp,'' Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. ''And those goals are what motivate us. Those goals are what drive us.''

Ohio State center/guard Alex Stepanovich said the trick was to not get caught up in all the talk.

''On the outside, people hear about this game so much that it's blown up more than what it really is: a football game,'' he said. ''You need to take all the energy that goes into this game and put it into the game and not let it affect you.''

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel brought in former Buckeyes head coach Earle Bruce to talk to the team on Sunday night. Several players said Bruce's speech was filled with fire and brimstone about the history of the rivalry and how awful it is to lose to such a hated rival.

Linebacker Matt Wilhelm said he took one message from Bruce's speech.

''He broke it down for us as seniors,'' Wilhelm said. ''We can go 12-0, lose to Michigan and there would be a question mark next to the 2002 team. That's the type of pressure there is.''

Asked if it was fair to apply that kind of pressure to college athletes, Wilhelm said, ''I don't think so, but it comes with the territory. We schedule Michigan at the end of the season for a reason.''

Most players said the proper approach was to consider the game no different from all the others before it. Olivea strongly disagreed.

''I'd be lying if I said it was just another game,'' he said.

''This is crazy. I've never been a part of it. I wish everybody could experience it,'' he said. Then he added, ''College football does not get any bigger than this. This is the granddaddy of them all. This is it. There's not a college football game in the country that's bigger than this one.''