One of the most hyped up games of the upcoming college football season is now just less than a month away: USC vs. Ohio State.
Yes, football fans, grab those foam fingers, wash that jersey, and fill that fridge with cold ones, because Ohio State and USC are meeting at “The ‘Shoe” on September 12th.
While many prognosticators see the Trojans rolling through Columbus with reckless abandon, this writer sees it a little differently – and there are a few reasons why Ohio State knocking off the Trojans isn’t such a far-fetched idea…
The Lucky Horseshoe
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? Home field advantage. Let’s face it, it’s a nightmare for opponents to play at the ‘Shoe. Just ask anyone that’s had to go in there and deal with the noise. In fact, Vince Young once referred to Ohio Stadium as “the loudest place I’ve ever played.”
If the Trojans are going to have trouble traveling to a place like Corvallis—sporting its capacity crowd of just over 45,000—try dealing with Ohio State’s humble abode, chock-full of electricity, an “unwelcome mat” and a crowd of 100,000 plus.
On top of all that, the Buckeyes are 46-1 at home against non-conference teams, with the only loss being against Texas in ’05 (a close 25-22 game). This is the same Texas team that eventually won the National Title (eventually defeating… yep, you guessed it…USC). And, oh yeah, the Bucks beat Texas on the road the following season.
The Big Ten Entrenched
Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes play a style like most of the Big Ten, focusing on the trenches, preaching solid defense, and controlling field position via a solid special teams group. While the Buckeyes return only 12 starters, this team does bring back some big weapons on special teams as well as its entire defensive line.
Included on this defensive line are four returning starters, two seniors and two juniors—all have the experience to help try and wreak havoc on Aaron Corp, the talented but inexperienced USC QB that has been tabbed as Mark Sanchez’s successor.
Last year’s Ohio State defense was consistent, ranking 18th in rush defense and 25th in pass defense. This D-line can plug up the running game, forcing Corp to try and beat them through the air while dealing with the crowd noise.
Ohio State Has “Pryor” Experience
Terrelle Pryor may only be a sophomore entering this season, but he will be the QB with experience in this game. While Pryor made his share of freshman mistakes, he most certainly will be a better player in ‘09.
The former top-rated recruit has a ton of talent, both throwing and running. Pryor’s mobility is what is going to be key here, because with Ohio State’s question marks in the running game, having Pryor as a dual threat should at least help in keeping USC’s defense honest.
With a number of its offensive weapons departing, including WR Brian Robiskie, WR Brian Hartline, and RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Pryor is not only going to need to put this offense on his back, but a number of other talented players are going to need to step it up.
“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better…”
Recent football chatter has been how when a handful of Trojans depart for the NFL, it never matters because Pete Carroll and his staff just restock and reload. Yes, USC stockpiles talent but critics need to take a step back and look at the big picture. USC is not alone in this department.
In fact, the Buckeyes (under Tressel) have recruited exceptionally well. In fact, according to the 2009 class rankings on Scout.com, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 class, with USC landing in the No. 9 slot.
Sure, the Trojans managed ten players from the Top 100 and four five-star recruits, but the Buckeyes were not far off, landing seven Top 100 players and three five-star recruits. On top of that, the Buckeyes also rated ahead of the Trojans in 2008.
So while both teams are in need of some retooling, Ohio State is reeling in as much talent as USC. While recruiting is an inexact science, both teams will likely feature emerging young stars in 2009 and going forward. Just don’t be so fast to say that USC is the only team restocking with ease.
“Coach Klein” That Playbook
We all know how Coach Tressel likes to try and control a game. But with USC, the Buckeyes really need to open up the playbook more—say, in “Coach-Klein-like” fashion, as in the coach from The Waterboy, who loved to call some borderline absurd trick plays. But the fictional Klein gets pushed as a reference because he was far from vanilla.
Vanilla won’t fly with the Trojans, as USC just has too much talent, coupled with Carroll’s experience. So instead, catch USC a little off guard, maybe with a fake punt, a fake field goal, or a few trick plays that help open up Pryor for a big play or two.
It can work against USC—just look at Penn State in last season’s Rose Bowl. Fine, the Trojans put a hurting on Penn State in the first half, but the Nittany Lions did move the ball and score on a USC defense that was significantly more lethal than its 2009 unit, which still lacks experience (the Trojans lost eight defensive starters).
With Penn State, it was the “Spread HD” offense, and Tressel needs to pull a few tricks from that sweater vest sleeve, or this game could possibly get out of hand.
The game is a month away, yes. But with names like Ohio State and USC, the hype should begin now.
I’m not here this soon to toss out plays and techniques, but I’m here to tell you a few basic reasons why the Buckeyes could leave that September night with a tally in the win column. The home field advantage, the talented QB with a year under his belt, the defensive line experience, the special teams weapons, maybe a few trick plays, and the Buckeyes could be driving USC “nuts” and setting the stage for another off-the-wall college football season.
** Original version of this blog posted by KP on May 31, 2009