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But the alternative is almost unthinkable to Ohio State.

“Already it means so much to us that we don’t need to lose a game to remember how bad it hurts,” said defensive lineman Dexter Larimore.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4) is heading to a bowl game for the first time in Rodriguez’s three years in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, led by multi-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, are hoping for a victory to prove they’ve climbed out of the dark hole they were in the past couple of years and are headed for a brighter future.

A signature win couldn’t come against anyone better than the Buckeyes.

“I’ve got respect for them,” Robinson said. “But I don’t like them.”

The feeling is mutual. Ohio State has no other major rival besides Michigan. But the Wolverines also circle Michigan State and Notre Dame on their calendars each season.

So this is a special week for players and fans to embrace their dislike of the other team.

“I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them either because of the rivalry,” Ohio State cornerback Devon Torrence said. “Michigan is a great university and institution for college and college football. They do a lot in terms of the whole college football spectrum.

“I won’t say I hate them _ but I really want to beat them.”