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The biggest football game of the year will take place in Ohio this weekend, and it won’t be played by professionals.

While the Lions, Bengals and Browns have all been frustrating to watch this year, fans in Ohio and Michigan haven’t been complaining too much. Undefeated and top-ranked Ohio State takes on undefeated No. 2 Michigan on Saturday with a berth in college football’s championship game on the line. It likely will be the best football the region has seen in months.

For years college football has grabbed the spotlight in the greater Columbus and Ann Arbor areas, but this year the disappointing pro teams’ struggles have made the gulf even more pronounced.

The Bengals started the season 3-0, and it looked like the defending AFC North champs were headed toward another successful season, but Cincinnati has lost five of six since, including their last three by a combined 15 points.

On Sunday the Bengals blew a 21-point halftime lead and lost at home to the San Diego Chargers despite a 440-yard passing performance by quarterback Carson Palmer and a 260-yard receiving day by Chad Johnson.

The loss leaves Cincinnati three games behind the division-leading Ravens and just a game up on the 3-6 Browns, the perennial doormat of the AFC North.

The Detroit Lions are even worse, with a 2-7 record after losing to San Francsico on Sunday.

None of those teams stacks up favorably against their in-state college counterpart.

The Buckeyes have scored more than 30 points in a game eight times this year; The Browns have topped 20 only three times.

Four times, the Lions have surrendered more than 30 points this season; the Wolverines have held their opponents to less than two touchdowns seven times.

Granted, those college opponents aren’t as impressive as NFL opponents like the Broncos and Bears. But that doesn’t make it easier — and more enjoyable — to watch the professional football.

The Lions will travel to Arizona this week for a game they could win against the Cardinals, and the Browns will face their rival Steelers at home.

The question is, if the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry lives up to the hype, will anyone watch?

Instant replayThe game of the week was that Chargers-Bengals tilt which featured 90 combined points from the two squads, including 42 by San Diego in the second half. AFN Sports will replay the contest on Thursday at 2 p.m. Central Europe time.

The Saints-Steelers game (3:30 p.m. CET Thursday) featured the most combined offensive output of the day (984 total yards) but only a mere 69 points between the two teams.

On Wednesday AFN Sports will show two matches decided by last-minute field goal attempts: The Seahawks made theirs in a game against the Rams (2 p.m. CET) while the Ravens blocked the Titans’ last-chance kick to hold on (3:30 CET).

Running awayLaDanian Tomlinson outscored 20 other teams on Sunday, posting four touchdowns in the Chargers victory in Cincinnati.

The versatile running back has 18 touchdowns after nine games, not including a passing touchdown he threw during a game against the Chiefs in week seven.

More than halfway through the season, he’s on pace for 32 touchdowns on the year, which would break the NFL single-season touchdown record of 28 that Shaun Alexander set last year.

Tomlison’s statistical success is even more impressive considering gaudy numbers don’t always translate into wins.

On Sunday, Bengals WR Chad Johnson caught 11 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns — and lost. Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 398 yards — and lost. The Rams defense collected six sacks against the Seahawks — and lost.

But Tomlinson’s best days this year have helped his team keep pace in the AFC West. He has 10 touchdowns over the last three games, all close wins by his team.

The Chargers visit Denver next, and the Broncos are surrendering fewer than 13 points a game. If they manage to hold the visitors to that mark, it’ll only be the second time in the last six weeks someone has managed to keep Tomlinson in check.


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