When Michigan takes the field on Sept. 5 for its 2009 season opener, 286 days will have passed since the Wolverines last played a football game.
It will be an even 300 days since Michigan's last victory.
After spending most of the past eight months throwing around weights, running sprints and dedicating himself to the mostly mundane task of physically preparing for football, Michigan senior offensive lineman Mark Ortmann is ready to start talking about actually playing a game.
"It's close enough now that you can really feel it - you can sense that the serious work of getting ready to go out there and line up and play is getting near," Ortmann said at the Big Ten's football meetings in Chicago last week. "All those months of pushing yourself lead up to this. Now we go to camp and get on with the business of football."
Ortmann and the Wolverines will gather in Ann Arbor on Sunday, then the next morning they'll commence preparations for that first game against Western Michigan.
"It seems like forever since we've played, other than the spring game, and I know from talking with the guys as we've been working out that everyone is real anxious for camp to start," Ortmann said. "You take a lot of steps in preparation for the next season, with lifting and conditioning and all, but once camp opens, you know the waiting is over. It's all football then."
Ohio State is on the same schedule, with the Buckeyes reporting on Sunday in Columbus, in advance of Monday's first practice session of camp. They will have four weeks to prepare for their opener against Navy.
"You start getting anxious in July, knowing camp is coming up, and after it starts, it's all about that first game," Ohio State senior tight end Jake Ballard said. "Until you get to camp, the first game seems so far off, and then it's something you talk about every day."
The Buckeyes last played on Jan. 5, in a 24-21 loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. That meant seven months of living with the sting of defeat, which came about as Texas scored with just 16 seconds left in the game. Ohio State senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington said the residue from ending the season that way lingers.
"There's a bad taste left over," Worthington said. "You just don't like the way you feel after a loss, and you keep trying to put it out of your mind, but when it happens in the last game like that, it kind of hangs with you. You look forward to playing again, and starting things fresh."
The Wolverines, whose last outing was a 42-7 pounding at the hands of Ohio State in mid-November, posted their most recent win on Nov. 8 at Minnesota by a 29-6 count. Senior defensive back Stevie Brown said Michigan wants to put its difficult first year under head coach Rich Rodriguez on the shelf, and get 2009 underway.
"I think everybody has been motivated and working really hard all winter and spring, but things take on a different level of importance once camp opens and the season is that close," Brown said.
"After the year we had last season, we all can't wait to come together at camp and get to work on preparing for that first game. We can't really prove that we're a better team and that last year wasn't what we're all about, until we get out there and play. It's a process we got to go through, and camp is like the last giant step in that process."
Ohio State senior defensive back Kurt Coleman said preseason camp is where the new team really takes shape each year.
"For months and months, everybody's working out all the time and pushing like crazy to get prepared, but camp is when we all come together, we get with the coaches again, and everything kind of takes shape for that season," he said.
"The hard work continues, but the excitement part of this really gets going during camp. Everybody can see that first game up there on the calendar, less than a month away, so the intensity really cranks up."
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