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Former Michigan star Charles Woodson said he feels the rivalry game has been treated like just another game in recent years. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News

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Ann Arbor — Charles Woodson can’t bring himself to say the name of Michigan’s arch rival, Ohio State, but he believes the Buckeyes haven’t been focused on enough by the Wolverines.

“You know who,” Woodson said Saturday night before the ChadTough gala, referring to Ohio State. “We don’t have to say their name. You know who it is.”

Woodson was Michigan’s graduation speaker last month and guaranteed the football team will beat Ohio State this year. The Buckeyes have won the last six and are 13-1 since 2003.

While at Michigan, Woodson and the Wolverines were 3-0 against the Buckeyes. He helped lead the Wolverines to the 1997 national championship under Lloyd Carr and went on to become the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy that season.

He said Saturday he feels the game hasn’t been emphasized enough by Michigan.

“To be quite honest I really feel like over the years, in recent years, there hasn’t been the emphasis that I’m used to being put on that game,” Woodson said.

“Every game has been out on the same level of that game and that’s not the way we were brought up, that’s not the way we were raised around here. And we had no shame in saying it.”

Woodson spoke to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s team before the Ohio State game last year, and said his message was received although the Buckeyes went on to win again.

“They got it. They got it,” Woodson said. “The time is now. We ain’t waiting no more.”

He does not like the approach that all games are equal for Michigan.

“That’s it,” he said of Ohio State. “That’s THE game.”

But from Woodson’s vantage, he has seen Michigan players more recently lumping the Ohio State game with all the others.

“It feels like every time I’m watching our teams in the recent years, it’s, ‘Aw, you know, it’s another game,’” Woodson said. “Nah, it’s not, and it should never be that way to any of the players who come in here. That’s really my message to the guys, the freshmen who will come in to the guys who have already been here and been a part of the game — that is THE game. We would love to win them all, but we’ve got to have that one. That’s what it is.”

Carr’s last season was 2007, and Rich Rodriguez took over and coached the next three seasons, before Brady Hoke became head coach the next four seasons before Harbaugh was hired.

“Some people understand it, some people don’t,” Woodson said of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. “(Rodriguez) never understood it. And even then (with Hoke), I still don’t think there was enough emphasis on it.”

Ohio State was always the focal point for teams Woodson played for, and the players had no problem saying that publicly.

“With us, we talked about it all the time,” he said. “We always had the saying that we could go 0-10, but if we won that game, it was a good season. We said that. Yeah, you wanted to win every game, but we all knew when it came down to that one, that was the big fish. And we didn’t mind saying it to you guys. When’s the last time you guys have heard that? You tell me. You get my picture.”

Because the focus hasn’t been what Woodson would consider acceptable, Michigan teams have struggled against Ohio State.

“You look at the past couple of years there’s no reason we don’t come out victorious in those games,” Woodson said. “It’s not for lack of players, not for lack of talent, it’s not for lack of coaching. You’ve got to be able to finish. In my opinion, it’s the focus that you put on that game that allows you to finish that game. We’ve got to get back to that.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/chengelis

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