They combine for 18 national championships and 14 Heisman Trophies. Their histories are long and rich with success. They share a seat among the royal court of college football, with the mere mention of their names wakening ghosts of the past to romp again upon autumn playgrounds. They are the Big 10 and Pac 10, juggernauts of the modern game. And since the turn of the century, their victories and accomplishments dwarf the landscape, with only a handful of others appearing on this elite level. They are gladiators in a contest of survival of the fittest, with both looking to cement their names in the halls of history, while traveling a road to a crystal finish. They are Ohio State and Southern California, the Buckeyes and the Trojans, and 1 versus 5. They are the programs, and this is “the game”.
Last Week: W-Ohio
The question of the past two weeks has been whether or not Beanie Wells will play. Wells, the Heisman contender and biggest playmaker on the Ohio State offense, suffered a foot injury in the season opener against Youngstown State. He sat out the recent victory over Ohio, but the Buckeyes’ offense sputtered to a 26-14 win. Be it looking ahead or bad chemistry, to bring that game to the coliseum on Saturday is to end up on the bad side of a lopsided affair.
How important is Wells in this game? Consider that very few spotlight running backs have performed well against Pete Carroll defenses. Also take into consideration that those programs that were able to establish anything consistent on the ground walked away with victories. Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Mike Hart all failed. Jonathan Stewart had success, as did Cal’s Adam Echemandu. And let’s not forget, Vince Young ran for 200 yards in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
By the end of the 2007 regular season, Quarterback Todd Boeckman was rightfully given Heisman consideration. The Ohio State field general finished with a passer rating of 148.95, throwing for 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, while leading his team to the BCS Championship game. He has experienced bodies up front, losing only one member from last season’s offensive line. Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline provide a presence out wide for an offense that doesn’t need to be dynamic, but just be efficient. If Chris Wells can’t go, Mike Wells and Daniel Herron will be asked to carry the load.
The Buckeyes return the nation’s top rated defense against the pass, and 3rd rated against the run. They lost All American Vernon Gholston to the NFL draft, but return all 4 members of the secondary. James Laurinaitis may be the best linebacker in the country, but beside him is another exceptional playmaker in Marcus Freeman. The Buckeyes also feature one of the top rated cornerbacks in the nation in Malcolm Jenkins, according to mock gurus and NFL scouts. This is the strength of the program, and the unit that can carry the Buckeyes to victory.
Last week: Bye
USC opened the season impressive. Well, at least it appeared to be. When you consider their 52-7 victory over Virginia in the opener, then realize the Wahoos only managed a 16-0 victory over Richmond in week two, it takes a little luster off the accomplishment. But the biggest benefit the Trojans received after their opening week game wasn’t a boost in the rankings or escalated publicity. It was the Bye week that followed.
Not only has Pete Carroll had two weeks to prepare, but the Trojans received an additional week to get healthy. They go into Saturday’s contest as a stronger group, after several players were limited with injuries in the week one. Pete Carroll is 11-2 in games following a Bye week. Overall, he’s 16-5 in games with more than a week to prepare. He’s 4-0 against the the Big 10. The Trojans haven’t lost to a Big 10 opponent since Penn State in 1996, and haven’t lost to Ohio State since the 1974 Rose Bowl. The two programs last met in 1990, where USC posted a 35-26 victory in Columbus. USC is 31-1 in their last 32 home games, and Ohio State hasn’t won in the Coliseum since 1946.
QB Mark Sanchez will accept the challenge the OSU defense will bring. Again, protection becomes the key. If given time, navigation up and down the field comes easily, considering the choice of playmakers provided on the roster. Arkansas transfer Damian Williams appears to have the most chemistry with the new Trojan quarterback, and may receive the start, with Vidal Hazelton bothered by an ankle injury. The "running back by committee" will continue, with C.J Gable likely to receive the start again on Saturday, being the best pass blocker of the group. The touches for Joe McKnight will come in every way and every direction, with the fresh legs of Stafon Johnson continually rotated in and out to wear down defensive fronts.
Just as Ohio State, the defense is the anchor of this USC team. What the Buckeyes will see is speed at every position, the type of speed they saw against their BCS Championship opponents from the SEC. Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing aim to prove their linebacking corps is the most talented in the nation, with Safety Taylor Mays leading a well equipped secondary. LB Luther Brown is returning from injury to fill the thin position behind Maualuga. Carroll uses a variety of blitz packages, which is why it's so important for opponents to not only establish the run, but to also not fall behind.
At No. 5, this is the highest ranked Buckeyes team to face the Trojans since top ranked Ohio State fell to USC 17-16 in the 1980 Rose Bowl. USC is 4-0-1 when it is ranked higher in the AP poll than Ohio State. The Trojans are 66-5-2 in games when they are the top ranked team in the nation. USC (82) is 4th on the all time list for programs ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, behind Notre Dame (89), Oklahoma (86) and Ohio State (86).
This is a must win for each team, with the winner gaining a better grip on a run towards the BCS Championship game. But of the two programs, Ohio State is most needy. The Buckeyes have suffered criticism over the past couple of years, because of their championship game failures. The media and fans have picked them apart, almost as if everyone forgot the Buckeyes were National Champions as recent as 2002.
Even with Pete Carroll’s record over Big 1O opponents, and the Trojans not threatened in any, Ohio State provides a different beast. There’s a definite edge in experience, which could offset the Trojans edge in home field advantage. Big games aren’t a new experience for neither team nor coach. And this games victor will be the best prepared and the one making the fewest errors. The X-factor may possibly be Buckeyes' freshman QB Terrelle Pryor, whose mobility can be utilized to provide more options. There is a theory across the college football world that USC tends to struggle against mobile quarterbacks. This theory obviously emerged after Vince Young ran wild, but Dennis Dixon posted just one victory against the Trojans, Jake Locker has yet to win, just as Isaiah Stanback failed before him. And if you happened to catch the 2008 Rose Bowl, Juice Williams was a non factor.
All Time Series: USC leads 11-9-1
Streak: USC has won 5 straight