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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ohio State does have a chance at USC

Ohio State does have a chance at USC

Contrary to what you might have heard, Ohio State has not gone ahead and forfeited Saturday's game at USC. In spite of their recent drop in the AP poll, in spite of an ever-swelling Vegas spread (11 points as of this writing) and in spite of an ESPN survey that indicated 75 percent of you think they might as well not bother, the Buckeyes are still planning to board their flight to Los Angeles.
Therefore, I will still answer your questions about the game.
Why is everyone making such a big deal over Ohio State's mediocre win over Ohio? Teams get caught looking ahead to a big game all the time.
What "big deal" are you referring to?
Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan all had close games against supposedly inferior competition last weekend. Michigan lost to Utah the week before, and ND's opponent [San Diego State] lost to an FCS team, so I can see why the Irish and Michigan are unranked. But based on the play we've seen on the field so far, shouldn't Ohio State be at the bottom of the top 25 at best?
Oh -- that.
If you subscribe to the theory that, once the season starts, poll rankings should be determined solely by on-field performance, than yes, I suppose the Buckeyes would not be all that high on the list. But you'd also have to place East Carolina at No. 1. With all due respect to the Pirates, do you really think they're better than USC or Georgia? And by the same token, do you really think there are 24 teams out there better than the Buckeyes? I'm all about rewarding on-field performance -- but I'm an advocate of common sense, too.
The OSU-Ohio U. game did not trouble me nearly as much as it seemed to do to the rest of the country, mostly because, like Ryan said, I've seen the same thing happen a thousand times before. The scrappy mid-major, for whom the game is their de facto BCS championship, comes out playing with their hair on fire. The complacent hosts come out playing like they'd rather be home watching USC tape. At halftime, when the Bobcats led 7-6 and my editor was already in full-on freak-out mode, I told him, relax, Ohio State will end up winning 26-7. If not for that botched snap into the end zone, that's exactly what the score would have been.
But the reality is, OSU is playing under a microscope this season unlike that of any other team in the country. With the backlash that's arisen from their recent BCS debacles, the Buckeyes' many critics are already on the lookout for any little chink in the armor. For it to come the week before the USC game? Dear almighty -- better start ringing the alarms.
The one obvious concern for Ohio State right now is the guy who spent Saturday cheering from the sideline. Simply put: No Beanie, no victory this weekend. And I'm sure his absence played a role in last week's result. Take away Knowshon Moreno from Georgia or Sam Bradford from Oklahoma and their victories last weekend would not have been nearly as lopsided, either.
How much do you think Ohio State changed their game plan and/or kept one hand or more tied behind their backs against their first two opponents in anticipation of the game with USC? If so, do you think it will throw off Pete Carroll and his staff?
Not in the slightest. While it's always possible the Buckeyes -- like any team -- has a trick play or two in its back pocket, there's not much secret as to what they like to do. They're going to hand off to Beanie. They're going to throw several deep balls off the play-action. And their defense is going to put pressure on Mark Sanchez. That's what they do. Carroll need only watch tape from last season to figure that out.
Could we see the Buckeyes rely more on the shotgun and spread formations to help neutralize USC's pass rush? Quite possibly. Could we see some secret Terrelle Pryor package? Not likely. (Jim Tressel isn't one to throw a freshman quarterback into the heat.) Either way, Carroll has assuredly dusted off tape from the Troy Smith era to cover every angle. Tressel's teams have never been about "trickeration" -- he's more of an "execution" guy. "Everyone knows that [the Trojans] are a great team," he said, "but the key to the game for us will be us. We'll see which team is better."
Here's the bottom line, guys and gals: USC is the favorite, and rightfully so, but the teams are not that far apart talent-wise, if at all. One reason it may appear that way is because of the Trojans' plethora of flashy skill players, but this game will be determined first and foremost in the trenches.
Clearly, USC's young offensive line was not properly tested against Virginia. Sanchez said he had so much time in the pocket, "it was like we were grilling steaks back there." If Ohio State can get to Sanchez, he won't be as likely to pick apart this secondary. He may even throw a couple of picks. Tressel's teams often win these kinds of games off a couple of turnovers and/or big special teams plays.
On the flip side, we've all seen how the Buckeyes' O-line failed to handle the speedy defensive fronts of Florida and LSU the past couple of years. USC is every bit as fast, if not faster. If the same thing happens this time -- that 11-point spread will end up looking kind.

Are there other games this weekend?

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