Jilted Michigan will try to test Pryor

Published 2:21 am Friday, November 21, 2008

Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol didn’t think there was anything special about rivalries — until the opening kickoff of his first game against Michigan.

‘‘I was a freshman and Ernest Shazor knocked me into, probably, the third week of my junior year,’’ he said, wincing at the thought.

Nicol’s story may provide some insight as Ohio State’s touted freshman quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, prepares for his first game against Michigan. A native of Jeannette, Pa., Pryor isn’t steeped in the traditions and the enmity of the series. Yet.

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After the Buckeyes’ 30-20 win last week at Illinois, Pryor said of the Wolverines: ‘‘I just think of them as every other team. They’re just another team to me until I get into this rivalry.’’

For most players, the ferocity of the hitting and the stifling pressure set this game apart from all others. Almost everyone on both sides talks about the weight of the hopes of former players, the pad-cracking hits and the vitriol of the opposing fans.

‘‘The first time I experienced it, it blew my mind,’’ said Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorius, a native of South Africa who grew up 8,700 miles away from the rivalry and didn’t even play in that first game.

Adding kindling to the blaze, Pryor the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit last spring, chose Ohio State over Michigan.

‘‘It’s in the past,’’ said Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, also participating in the rivalry for the first time. ‘‘Once he got signed and he goes to another school, my focus is on the guy that’s playing for us. And you have to do that. I don’t think you can (do) hypotheticals and what-ifs. You have to say this is what reality is, and this is what we do.’’

The callow 18-year-old Pryor has had a profound impact on the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten). They have won seven of eight games since he took over as the starter. They need to beat Michigan (3-8. 2-5) to clinch a tie for the Big Ten title.