College Football Titans Collide

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In college football this weekend, it's the No. 1 team versus the No. 2. when Ohio State hosts its great rival, the University of Michigan.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

One of college football's most traditional rivalries will pit the number one team in the country this year against the number two team. Ohio State is top ranked, and they host number two Michigan in a game that will decide at least one spot in January's national championship game.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us once again. John, good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Even when these guys are not number one or number two in the country, they hate each other.

FEINSTEIN: Oh, this is one of the great rivalries in sports. It really is. And cynical old man that I am, I'm actually pumped up for this game because it's in Ohio Stadium; Michigan has the clear edge in the fight song, but Ohio State has the clear edge in the dotting of the I at the end of script Ohio, which, short of the playing of the alma maters at the end of Army-Navy, is the coolest tradition in college sports.

INSKEEP: Are you talking about the way the marching band goes out and spells...

FEINSTEIN: Exactly. And then one of the guys runs up to dot the I, it's just fantastic, great moment in sports. But these teams always, as you said, play a huge game, but this year it's bigger than it's ever been. They've never been one versus two before going into the game. They've been undefeated, 1973 they were number one and number three when the coaches were Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

INSKEEP Mm-hmm.

FEINSTEIN: But now, the winner will obviously, as you said, play in the championship game on January 8. And interestingly, the loser could play in the championship game. Because let's say Michigan, especially playing on the road, loses a close game in Ohio Stadium to the number one team, they could still be the number two team because there are all these one-loss teams, like Florida and Notre Dame and Southern Cal and Arkansas. But Michigan would also be a one-loss team, and they'd have probably the most impressive loss of all those teams on their resumes. So it could be that these teams might meet again in January, regardless of the outcome here.

INSKEEP: Would Michigan be in danger because they would have a loss at the very end of the season, say?

FEINSTEIN: Sometimes, yes. That affects voters. It might not affect the computers, and you know the bowl championship series has this ridiculous system for picking the teams with computers and human beings and coaches and actors and rock stars, you know, voting on who should be number one and number two. And I literally mean that in terms of one of those polls. So it could hurt them to lose late.

And again, if Ohio State loses at home, that would hurt them more than Michigan losing on the road. So there are all sorts of ifs and buts. We won't know until December 3rd who's going to play in the championship game. But if this is a really close game, it is possible for these teams to rematch.

INSKEEP: John, nobody is surprised that Ohio State is in this position. But how did Michigan get there?

FEINSTEIN: You know, they started out the season with people saying Lloyd Carr might be fired, their coach at the end of the year. They'd had several mediocre-for-Michigan seasons. And then the Notre Dame game, which you remember you and I talked about, turned it all around. They went into Notre Dame Stadium and dominated Notre Dame from start to finish. That started to move them up in the polls as other teams lost. They went bop, bop, bop, bop. They started out around 20th and now they've been number two for a couple of weeks, and thus this super-sized matchup tomorrow.

INSKEEP: Can't let you go, John, without asking about another rivalry that maybe will not affect the national championship - Harvard against Yale.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah. That's still my favorite game, other than Army-Navy of course, because they've been playing forever. Yale actually has a chance to at least share the Ivy League title for the first time since 1999. Harvard's been dominant in this rivalry. I don't know if you've ever been in Harvard Stadium in Boston.

INSKEEP: No.

FEINSTEIN: But if they ever play the football game in the old Roman Coliseum, it would look like Harvard Stadium. You know, it's a big round bowl, concrete seating all the way around. It is throwback football. And the other game, though, that we should watch tomorrow - Rutgers-Cincinnati. Rutgers is undefeated.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

FEINSTEIN: And could be part of that BCS mix if they win out. They still have to go to West Virginia in two weeks. But they are a remarkable story, too. So there's a lot of games worth watching tomorrow.

INSKEEP: A lot of excitement, John. Thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Commentary from John Feinstein. He's the author of "Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL."

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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