Asked Monday if he took his lack of

By Rusty Miller Associated Press Published:

Asked Monday if he took his lack of success against the Wolverines personally, he said, "Just about 365 days a year."

So, with the seventh-ranked Buckeyes playing host to No. 11 Michigan on Saturday and with bowl hopes and the Big Ten title riding on the outcome, Cooper said he's changing the way the Buckeyes get ready for the game.

"We've tried about everything you can try around here," Cooper said.

Most haven't worked, with Michigan winning the last three meetings and ruining Ohio State's unbeaten 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."

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

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 berth 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 their second trip to the Rose Bowl in three years.

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

Cooper couldn't believe that his team, 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 1/2-point favorite.

"I don't know how they get 10 1/2," 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."

Every year, Cooper locks up a load of blue-chip prospects, fills the seats in Ohio Stadium and takes the Buckeyes to major bowl games. But he's also vilified for his losses to Michigan and in bowl games, where he is 2-7.

"It's the nature of the beast," he said.

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."

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