Ohio State in Unfamiliar Role as Big Dog
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 09/09/2008
Two trains of thought will be in play when college football heavyweights No. 1 USC and No. 3 Ohio State clash Saturday evening at 8 p.m. EST. What is a better way to prepare for a season-changing non-conference game? Traveling across the country to play a middle-of-the-road team from a BCS Conference like USC did when they traveled to Virginia to throttle the Cavaliers, 52-7, or staying at home to play two neighboring schools, one from the MAC and the other from Division 1-AA like the Buckeyes did?
USC has also been aided by an extra week of rest and preparation while Ohio State is working on a short week. Or are they? The Buckeyes looked adequate in a 43-0 win over Youngstown State but incredibly sluggish against Ohio last week, squeaking by, 26-14. They were 33-point favorites against Ohio but trailed most of the game and very well could have lost. Many pundits are saying that Jim Tressel and his team spent days of preparation leading into Week 2 getting ready for the Trojans instead.
The Buckeyes were without Chris "Beanie" Wells, their best offensive player, who missed the game with an injury to his right big toe. He is expected back for Saturday. The Trojans enter the game as 10-point favorites, and the line appears to be moving higher and higher as Saturday approaches.
The last time Ohio State entered a game as an underdog was the BCS National Championship Game against LSU where they were getting three points and ended up losing by 14. These early season showdowns are nothing new for Jim Tressel. Last year his team traveled to Washington as three-point favorites and won, 33-14. Two years ago the Buckeyes and Longhorns clashed in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown and Ohio State won outright, 24-7, as three-point underdogs. You have to go back to the 2002 season to find the last time Ohio State was a double-digit underdog. It was in the Fiesta Bowl where they stunned Miami, 31-24, in overtime as 12-point underdogs.
An already dangerous USC team is even more lethal when given rest. They are 6-1 ATS in the last seven games after a bye week. Last year after a Week 1 win against Idaho, the Trojans had two weeks to prepare for a road trip to Lincoln, Nebraska. USC, favored by 10, never put the decision in doubt, beating the Cornhuskers, 49-31. The next time they had extended time to prepare they ran Illinois out of the Rose Bowl, winning, 49-17, as 13-point favorites. That win over Illinois extended a trend of dominance over the Big Ten. It was the seventh-consecutive time USC covered the spread against a team from the Big Ten. Oh yeah, that Illinois team was the same group that defeated Ohio State in the horseshoe last year as 16-point underdogs.
When USC does face the Big Ten they generally face the cream of the crop from the conference. Before the Illinois win they crushed Michigan in two Rose Bowls, 32-18, as one-point underdogs and 28-14 as seven-point favorites.
The Ohio State offense had trouble moving the ball against a team from the MAC. Pete Carroll has gone on record as saying this is the best defense he has ever had in his time at USC. Todd Boeckman averaged less than 10 yards a completion against Ohio and his backup, ballyhooed recruit Terrelle Pryor who was supposed to jump start the offense, looked out of place on the field at times. Tressel will have to be hesitant to go with the true freshman Pryor in a hostile Coliseum. In Wells' place a slew of running backs failed to pick up the slack with Daniel Herron gaining 53 yards on 12 attempts and Maurice Wells gaining 48 yards on nine attempts. The Buckeyes were bailed out by three Ohio interceptions. They should not expect USC quarterback Mark Sanchez to make the same mistakes. Against Virginia Sanchez was 26-for-35 for 338 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Ohio State has not traveled to Los Angeles for a regular season game since a 13-6 loss to UCLA in 2001. The trends and the intangibles are squarely in USC's corner in this game. The history of dominance over the Big Ten coupled with the extra week of rest gives USC a huge advantage before the game even starts. The only question is, how high will the line rise before kickoff?