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Rivarly always big to players

Go ahead, if you dare. Tell Tyler Whaley that this Saturday’s game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines isn’t significant.

Just make sure you do it via the safety of a telephone call, preferably anonymously, while disguising your voice.

Whaley, a 2003 Ironton High School grad who shunned smaller colleges to live his dream of being a Buckeye, is an adamant Wolverine hater.

Actually, using the word “hate” is candy-coating Whaley’s feelings about the team up north.

“This game is why kids go to Ohio State,” he said in increasingly escalating decibels. “Hating Michigan is all the motivation the Buckeyes need.”

For Ohio State, 9-2, the game isn’t exactly a must-win. The Buckeyes clinched at least a share of the Big Ten Conference in an overtime win over Iowa last weekend. They are already assured a spot in the Rose Bowl in January.

For Michigan, however, the stakes are high. A loss to OSU keeps them in last place in the Big Ten and, perhaps more importantly, knocks the 5-6 Wolverines completely out of the bowl picture for a second straight season.

So, should Buckeye fans be on alert for a let-down from the boys in scarlet and gray this Saturday?

“No way,” said Whaley, a 2007 OSU grad and starting fullback his senior season.

“If I was on that team right now, my motivation would be to make Michigan miss another bowl game. I don’t think any Buckeye team would ever want to lose to them, no matter the circumstances.”

Whaley mentioned some recent Buckeye greats who established themselves in the Michigan game. “This is the game that establishes you as a player,” he said. “This game put Troy (Smith) and Beanie (Wells) in the spotlight.”

Continuing with that thought, Whaley turned his attention to sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. “This is a game where you establish yourself as a superstar in the Buckeye world. He’s going to have all eyes on him. It’s his time.”

Anybody who has followed this rivalry for long knows that records go out the window once the opening kick is in the air. During the decade of the nineties, Michigan owned Ohio State, going 7-2-1 against the Buckeyes and twice handed OSU their first loss of the season.

Since Coach Jim Tressel arrived in Columbus in 2001, however, the roles have been reversed. The Buckeyes are 7-1 versus the Wolverines under Tressel, having won the last five contests.

“Just because Michigan is down, that doesn’t mean Tressel will change his preparation,” Whaley continued. “I guarantee you he’s going to treat this game like the Game of the Century.”

“He’s going to say that the goal is to be outright Big Ten champs. He’s going to bring in coach (Earl) Bruce to pump the guys up. By kickoff, he’ll have them ready to bust some heads.”

Tressel should invite Whaley to join Bruce in the locker room for the pre-game motivational speech. By the time he finished talking about the game over the phone, I was ready to suit up myself.

Oops. That wasn’t really me, Tyler.

Seriously, dude, it was Mark May.

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.