carr, michigan, wolverines
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- The game doesn't have as much national impact as it did just a week ago, but it's still one of the biggest in the career of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
"When you're playing for an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl against your fiercest rival, that's fun," Carr said during his weekly news conference, Monday. "If you can't enjoy that, then God help you."
Playing for the Rose Bowl is a step down for Ohio State, which until last week's 28-21 Big Ten loss to Illinois was the front runner to play in the BCS championship game.
Michigan, which started the season with losses to Appalachian State and Oregon and lost its first conference game to Wisconsin last week, would gladly accept a trip to Pasadena in January.
Carr also has some personal baggage to shed.
If No. 23 Michigan (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) loses Saturday at home, Carr will become the first coach in school history to go 1-6 over a seven-year stretch against No. 7 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) .
Add to that the widely held belief that this will be Carr's last season, and the importance of the game for his legacy is apparent.
Carr was not interested in talking about his record against Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel or the future in a Monday press conference. He did look and sound like he was in a good mood as a week of hype leading up to one of sport's greatest rivalries kicked off.
If Ohio State wins for the fourth straight year and sixth time since Tressel took over in 2001, it will win the conference championship outright and likely land in the Rose Bowl.
"I keep talking Tressel up to every NFL owner I see," TV analyst Dan Dierdorf, a former Michigan lineman, said on HBO's documentary about the rivalry. "I can't get this guy out of Columbus. This guy's got to go away."
Tressel, meanwhile, refuses to acknowledge he has owned the Wolverines.
"In the game of football, I don't know if there's ever someone having someone's number," he said. "The game of football is won on the field by the guys in the trenches and guys making plays."
A Michigan victory would give the program the Big Ten title by itself, a return trip to the Rose Bowl and Carr could hold his head high with a 7-6 record against Ohio State.
Since becoming head coach in 1995, Carr is 121-39 and 81-22 in the Big Ten. He has won five Big Ten titles, one national championship and led the Wolverines to a bowl game every season.
Signs have been pointing toward this being the 62-year-old's 13th and final year. He altered his contract last December, allowing him to easily make this his final season as coach and still collect deferred compensation. In March, his assistant coaches were given two-year deals to pay them through Feb. 28, 2009, even if they are not coaching at Michigan.
Carr has consistently dodged questions about next year, saying it would be hypocritical if he answered them, and did so again when the topic was broached Monday.
"The only thing on my mind is this game," Carr said after laughing.
Many others, however, have been talking about his possible successor for months, if not years.
LSU coach Les Miles seems to be at the top of the list because he played for the late Bo Schembechler at Michigan. That is where Miles met his wife, and he was an assistant there under Schembechler.
Even though Miles appears to be in a great situation leading the top-ranked Tigers in a talent-rich area of the country, the school seemed concerned enough about him bolting for Ann Arbor that it put a specific clause in his contract to make it an expensive move.
In the "termination by coach" section of his deal, Michigan is the only other school mentioned. It states that Miles will not seek or accept employment as Michigan's coach. If Miles does leave LSU to coach the Wolverines, he must pay LSU $1.25 million.
Michigan's players, meanwhile, are focused on beating the Buckeyes for Carr.
"We want to win it for him," defensive tackle Will Johnson said. "He's taken a lot of criticism. That's his job as a coach, but we represent him."
Asked about his possible retirement, Carr deflected his answers toward the team in a way that his mentor, Schembechler, would be proud.
Carr also said he is embracing the scrutiny that comes with Ohio State week.
"You embrace the pressure because the competition is why you play. It's why you coach," he said. "More than anything else, it's about competing to the best of your ability in a game you love and to try to achieve something with a group of people that you care about. And in this case, (people) that represent the University of Michigan in a way that we can all be proud."