Today's Ohio-State-Michigan showdown will, as usual, decide the Big Ten championship and who will paly in the Rose Bowl, but something else is also possibly on the line - the Heisman Trophy.

Michigan quarterback Rick Leach is a top candidate for the award as the nation's top player and this is his last chance before the balloting to strut his stuff.

Leach said the Heisman race is wide open and it would be a great thrill to win it, "but I'm not thinking about that now. My mind is on the game."

The Wolverines, 9-1, and ranked sixth nationally, are seven-point favorites to dump the 7-2-1 Buckeyes, and send them to their worst season since 1971.

The game will be played before a capacity crowd of 88,000 in Ohio Stadium and will be televised nationally (WJLA-TV-7, at 12:50 p.m.).

Notre Dame at Southern California, which will host the Rose Bowl, will also be televised on Channel 7, at 4 p.m.

"There is no bigger challenge than the Ohio State game," said Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler. "No, not even the Rose Bowl. This game is the ultimate."

While Leach is about to end an outstanding four-year career as Michigan's starting quarterback, his countepart, Ohio State freshman Art Schlichter, is just getting started. He has had his problems.

Leach has run for 566 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and passed for 980 yards and 14 touchdowns.

In his career, he has quarterbacked the Wolverines to a 37-7-2 record, to give him more victories than any other quarterback in more than a century of college football.

Leach has produced 6,112 yards in total offense (a Big Ten record) and has been responsible for 79 touchdowns (an NCAA record). He is the only player in NCAA history to score more than 200 points and produce 200 more by passing.

Schlichter has struggled. He has been intercepted 19 times this season, but 12 of them were in the first four games. He has settled down to run for 448 yards and 11 touchdowns and pass for 1,002 yards and four touchdowns. He has ralled the Buckeyes, off to a 2-2-1 start to five straight victories.

Schlichter came out throwing in Ohio State's opener and had five passes intercepted against Penn State as the Buckeyes lost 19-0.

Since them, Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes went back to his customary ground attack. He's not saying what he will do today.

"You just don't reveal your plan," Hayes said. "If you tell a man what you're going to do, he's going to build his defense against it. The whole element of defense and offense is always built on surprise. We'll put in a couple of new things and no one will know about them until the game."

The biggest problem for the Buckeyes this season is defense. They have given up 185 points, the most an Ohio State team has yielded since 1891.

Michigan stumbled only against Michigan State this season, and has given up only 85 points, 20 in the second half.

Michigan State is tied with Michigan and Ohio State with a 6-1 conference record, but th Spartans are ineligible for postseason play because they are on NCAA probation.

Leach's primary competition for the Heisman will most likely be Penn State quarterback Chuck Fusina, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims and Southern California running back Charles White.

"If the Heisman goes to the best player, Sims will win it," said one professional scout, "but I think Fusina will probably get it. If it went to the guy who means the most to his team, though it would have to go to Leach. Michigan would be nothing without him."

In Los Angeles, third-ranked Southern Cal meets the eighth-ranked Irish in one of the nation's fiercest intersectional revalries.

The lone blemish on the Trojans' record was a 20-7 loss to Arixona State. Notre Dame lost its first two games - to Missouri, 3-0, and Michigan, 28-14.

Southern Cal's White has 1,403 yards and a 5.1 average. He holds the league rushing mark with 3,739 career yards.

Notre Dame's opponent for the Cotton Bowl game may be determined today. All Houston has to do to earn the host role is to beat either Texas Tech today or Rice next weekend. Tech has won five straight games.