College Football: Does Ohio State have a chance against USC?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2008

By John Lindsay
Scripps Howard News Service
Anytime college football royalty from different powerhouse conferences square off, it’s time to get excited.
And so we get No. 5 Ohio State (2-0) at top-ranked Southern California (1-0) tonight at the venerable Coliseum in Los Angeles. This might be a lot more fun to watch than Georgia-Central Michigan.
Combined, the Buckeyes and Trojans have appeared in five of the last six BCS national title games. So even if it is September, chances are this one will matter in December.
Just don’t get too fixated on USC’s six-game winning streak over the Buckeyes. Considering the two haven’t met since 1990, that number is about as relevant as a Wilson Phillips reunion.
Coming in, the compelling question is exactly what did the Buckeyes’ no-show with Ohio (OSU trailed after three quarters vs. the 31-point underdog Bobcats) mean to this game? The Las Vegas odds makers have a clue.
After USC (who was off last Saturday) was initially installed as around a 5-point favorite, the Trojans have now ballooned to 11-point choice. This offers further proof of the college game’s here-and-now mentality.
After all, these are still the Buckeyes, participants in the last two BCS national title games, winner of their last 13 road games as part of a 35-5 run since the start of the 2005 season. Underdogs by 11 to a team that lost at home to 41-point underdog Stanford last year?
But before you color us scarlet and grey, understand this. That point spread looks about right for a number of reasons:
– With a seasoned quarterback (Mark Sanchez), size on the defensive front and speed on the outside, the Trojans look very much like an SEC team. And we all know how OSU’s last two tussles with Florida and LSU turned out (defeats by a combined 79-38).
– Minus gimpy RB “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State’s offense produced a whopping 272 yards and 19 points against Ohio. So dating back to last year in their last three games vs. D-I foes (Michigan, LSU and Ohio) the Buckeyes have averaged just over 300 yards a game while scoring seven touchdowns and committing five turnovers. QB Todd Boeckman’s numbers in particular (combined 38-of-65, 368 yards, 2 TDs, 3 ints. over that span) hardly inspire confidence. And freshman QB Terrelle Pryor is nowhere near ready.
– Despite the aforementioned Stanford debacle, this is still USC and coach Pete Carroll, he of the 75-9 record since mid-2001 including a 28-7 mark vs. ranked teams. The Trojans are also 8-1 coming off a bye the last four-plus seasons.
So how can Ohio State win? Pretty simple, actually.
First, Wells, bum foot or not, must rush for at least 80 yards. Then the Buckeyes defense has to harass Sanchez into some turnovers. In their four losses since the start of last season, USC is minus-9 in turnover ratio. In their 22 wins over that span, the Trojans are plus-13 on turnovers.
Finally, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel must embrace this rare opportunity as an underdog. Break out the trick plays. Go for it on fourth down. Play to win.
This isn’t like beating Iowa or the rest of the dregs of the Big Ten. OSU has to win this game, and not wait for the Trojans to lose it.
It all sounds like a bit too much to ask if you’re an Ohio State fan.
The prediction:
USC 34, OSU 20.