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Can Cooper Out-Fox Wolverines?


In 10 tries, John Cooper has guided Ohio State to just one win and one tie against archrival Michigan

In the days leading up to most if not all of those games, Cooper has been as stiff as a man facing the executioner.

Even though it's mid-November and the schedule has Michigan coming to town Saturday, Cooper was loose and talkative Monday during his weekly news conference. He acted like a man assured of an 11th-hour reprieve.

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"We've tried about everything you can try around here," said Cooper, referring to Michigan week preparations.

Most haven't worked, with Michigan winning the last three meetings and ruining unbeaten Ohio State seasons three times in the last five years. The Wolverines have become a huge obstacle to the Buckeyes, as much mentally as physically.

"I think it's just a mental block," flanker Dee Miller said. "It's something we have to get rid of here."

No Buckeyes made inflammatory comments about the Wolverines during interviews Monday, as wide receivers David Boston did last year and Terry Glenn before the 1995 game. Ohio State lost both of those games.

Cooper is trying several approaches in hopes of reversing his luck against his nemesis. Senior Tackle -- a decades-old tradition at Ohio State where each departing player takes one last push on a blocking sled the day before the Michigan game -- has been moved back a month.

"Hopefully we're approaching it the best way this way," Cooper said."We're being selective on who you guys interview, for one thing. We're not having all the hype we've had around here with Senior Tackle and the ex-players coming in and talking about how big the game is."

In Cooper's mind both of those traditions merely added to the tension.

Besides, the stakes and the pressure remain high.

No. 11 Michigan can deny No. 7 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) a possible brth in the Rose Bowl for the fifth time this decade. If the Wolverines (8-2, 7-0) run their winning streak to nine in a row, they'll clinch an outright conference title and a trip to Pasadena.

Should Ohio State win, and if Penn State wins at Wisconsin, the Buckeyes would tie Michigan for the Big Ten title and make its second trip to the Rose Bowl in three years.

"We're just going to be ourselves," Buckeyes quarterback Joe Germaine said. "We're not trying to prove anything to anybody."

Cooper was as surprised as anyone to discover that Ohio State, which lost to Michigan State 28-24 two weeks ago to plummet from the No. 1 spot in both polls, has been installed as a 10 ½-point favorite.

"I don't know how they get 10 ½," Cooper said. "They are playing as good a football right now as anybody I've seen in the country. I'm not a handicapper. It should probably be a pick 'em game."

Cooper is known around Ohio as much for his dramatic flame-outs to Michigan and in bowl games (where he is 2-7) as he is for blue-chip recruiting classes and for walloping just about everybody else on the schedule.

"It's the nature of the beast," he said of how his reputation rides on the Michigan game.

Most Ohio state fans, he said, have treated him well despite that 1-8-1 bull's eye he wears on his back.

"Obviously, they're not any more disappointed than I am," Cooper said."But that ain't going to change. Some people, I wouldn't please then if we won every game."

One more change that Cooper has made is to stress to his players that Michigan is not invincible.

"There are a lot of good teams out there," he said. "I think you've got to be careful that you don't make the other team better than they are. Make them beat you on the field."

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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