2008 BCS Championship Preview - OSU vs. LSU
Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis
Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis
Posted Dec 30, 2007

2008 BCS National Championship Game - LSU vs. Ohio State

LSU (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)

January 7th, 8:00 p.m. ET, Fox

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How much have things changed in just 364 days?

Last year, the world was buzzing about Boise State's all-timer of a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The NFL playoffs were about to get in full swing, and the radio talk shows were buzzing on whether or not Mark McGwire was going to get into the Hall of Fame. Oh yeah, and there was that Ohio State coronation against Florida that got put on the backburner thanks to the week long lag time between New Year's Day and the title. Of course, Florida won in a rout, everyone was stunned for about 24 hours, and the Big Ten hasn't been the same since.

Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez were taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. Troy Smith started a few games for the Baltimore Ravens, while Chris Leak barely got acknowledged after being picked up by the Chicago Bears. In all, eight Buckeyes were drafted, with at least that many certain to be taken in 2008, while nine Gators were drafted, with three taken in the seventh round, yet Ohio State supposedly couldn't run, had no athleticism, and the Big Ten couldn't play with the SEC. Of course, Wisconsin and Penn State each won New Year's Day bowl games over SEC foes, but Ohio State's 41-14 embarrassment in Glendale (along with a 2-5 overall bowl record) set the league back in the respect department.

National Rankings
LSU Ohio State
Total Offense
20th  448.15 ypg 58th  397.08 ypg
Total Defense
3rd  283.85 ypg 1st  225.25 ypg
Scoring Offense
12th  38.69 ppg 36th  32 ppg
Scoring Defense
21st  19.62 ppg 1st 10.67 ppg
Run Offense
11th  218.92 ypg 31st  201.25 ypg
Run Defense
14th  103.08 ypg 3rd  77.08 ypg
Pass Offense
54th  229.23 ypg  87th  195.83 ypg
Pass Defense
9th  180.77 ypg 1st  148.17 ypg
Turnover Margin
3rd  1.38 63rd  -0.08
at Miss St W 45-0
Va Tech W 48-7
Middle Tenn W 44-0
S Carolina W 28-16
at Tulane W 34-9
Florida W 28-24
at Kent. L 45-37 3OT
Auburn W 30-24
 at Bama W 41-34
La Tech W 58-10
at Ole Miss W 41-24
Ark. L 50-48 3OT
SEC Championship
Tennessee W 21-14
Ohio State
Y'stown St W 38-6
W 20-2
at Wash
W 33-14
W 58-7
at Minn.
W 30-7
at Purdue W 23-7
Kent State W 48-3
Mich St
W 24-17
at Penn St W 37-17
Wisconsin W 38-17
L 28-21
at Michigan W 14-3
Position Ratings
relative to each other
LSU 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
4 O Line 5
5 D Line 4
5 Linebackers 5
4.5 Secondary 5
3.5 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 5

Now the shoe is on the other foot as LSU has all but been handed the crystal egg thing while many believe Ohio State might as well go enjoy the French Quarter. The New England Patriots, NFL playoff scenarios, and the dopey Mitchell report are dominating the sports talk, while LSU vs. Ohio State is just another game between big-name teams.

Don't be fooled.

The 2007 BCS Championship was an aberration; Ohio State wasn't that bad, and Florida wasn't that good. Of course Florida deserved to win that game, no question, but the Buckeyes had just as much talent, just as much athleticism, and just as much speed. They were simply outcoached and outplayed in every way. Don't expect Jim Tressel and the OSU coaching staff to make the same mistakes twice, and there's no way the team will come to New Orleans fat and happy like it did before the Florida debacle. It still might not matter.

Overall, an argument could be made that Ohio State was the more talented, better team than Florida last year (don't forget how many close calls and how many struggles the Gators had during the season), but the 2007 LSU team is better than this Buckeye squad. Injuries, coaching, a Les Miles dance with Michigan, and inconsistencies in key moments in big games on both sides of the ball kept the ultra-talented LSU team from an unbeaten season, but now all can be right with the Tiger world with a third straight bowl win.

LSU hasn't just dominated in bowl games under Miles, it's been downright scary-good beating Notre Dame (in the Sugar) and Miami (in the Peach) by a combined score of 81 to 17. However, the team didn't always play up to its skill throughout the year, most notably on defense in the losses to Kentucky and Arkansas, and it wasn't its dominating self from October on. Again, injuries played the main role, and now the team is as healthy as it's been since mid-September when it was 3-0 after blasting Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and Middle Tennessee by a combined score of 137-7. In other words, this should be the LSU team everyone's been expecting for a few months.

Ohio State was No. 1 in the nation for a good portion of the year, mostly by default, and is the top-ranked team according to the BCS, not LSU. While the Tigers lost to mediocre teams, with the defeat to Arkansas coming at home with the national title on the line, at least at the time, the Buckeyes lost their one game to an Illinois team that went to the Rose Bowl. Granted, the Illini are in Pasadena because of the victory in Columbus, but that was the only blip on the Buckeye radar. No one else came all that close, including Michigan State who came up with a few key turnovers to pull within seven late.

Ohio State leads the nation in total defense and scoring defense. It has the number one pass defense in the country. It has a motivated team that's going to play with a mega-chip on its shoulder. Will it all be enough to break an ugly eight-game losing streak to the SEC?

Forget about who you think the hot teams were at the end of the season, these two deserve to be here. Ohio State is by far the best of the one-loss lot, while LSU's two losses each came in triple overtime. The SEC champion is being given the benefit of the doubt, and rightly so, while the Big Ten champion comes in having won 30 of its last 32 games and four of its last five bowl games including three in the BCS.

This game will make up for last year's jaw-dropper, and while it won't be Texas vs. USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, it should be a great end to one of the wildest seasons ever.

Players to watch: LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was the best defensive player in America despite playing on one leg and a bad back for half the year. With a banged up knee thanks to a questionable chop block in the win over Auburn, he wasn't quite the same force as the year rolled on. He gutted it out and produced, but now he should be back to his old self, or should be closer than he was over the final month of the season, with time off to rest and heal up. While he doesn't have to get into the backfield on a regular basis, he has to keep Ohio State rushing star Chris "Beanie" Wells from getting anything up the middle while forcing everything to the outside.

Wells had a good first half of the year, and then he exploded over the final five games with 221 rushing yards against Michigan State, 169 yards and three scores against Wisconsin, and 222 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan. He's not Darren McFadden and isn't going to do to the LSU defense what the Hog superstar was able to, but he needs be effective enough to keep the heat off QB Todd Boeckman.

All Boeckman did was step in for a Heisman Trophy winning legend in Troy Smith and lead the Big Ten in passing efficiency, while taking the team back to the national championship game. He's not Smith when it comes to running, but he's a better pro prospect and mobile enough to buy himself a little bit of time against the LSU pass rush. If he gets good protection, he has the deep arm to stretch the field and keep the safeties back ... but that's a big if. Easier said than done. He was terrific over the first half of the year, but more and more the offense revolved around Wells once the heat of the Big Ten play kicked in. There was a magnificent performance against Penn State, and an efficient day against Wisconsin, but his three interceptions proved to be a killer against Illinois, and he was along for the ride in the win over Michigan. After throwing at least two touchdown passes in each of his first ten games, he didn't throw one in his last two and now will be tested over and over by an LSU defense that'll go all out to stop the run first. He'll have his chances to make big plays, but he'll have to prove he can make good decisions against a team this fast.

LSU will go with a two-headed quarterback attack. Last year, Ohio State had to deal with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. This year, it'll have to prepare for the same situation, even if the overall styles aren't even remotely similar. Senior Matt Flynn, like Leak, is the heady, gutty leader who isn't afraid to take a shot, has nerves of steel in crunch time (there wasn't a more clutch throw this year than his 22-yard touchdown pass to beat Auburn), and is the rock of the offense.  But just as Tebow was the far superior talent over Leak, sophomore Ryan Perrilloux is the special prospect who could grow into a Heisman caliber superstar if he gets his head screwed on straight. Big, mobile, and efficient when he gets the chance (completing 20 of 25 passes for 298 yards and three scores with an interception against Middle Tennessee, and completing 20 of 30 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the SEC Championship win over Tennessee), he'll split time and give the Buckeyes a different look.

LSU will win if... defensive coordinator Bo Pelini lets the dogs out of their cages. The new Nebraska head man, and LSU defensive coordinator for one more game, didn't turn his ultra-fast, ultra-talented group loose often enough for some, and it proved costly at times. Arkansas was able to run by the Tiger defense by being the aggressor. Kentucky QB Andre Woodson wasn't touched nearly enough in the 43-37 Wildcat win.

It's hard to argue with the overall results, LSU finished third in the nation in defense and forced 33 turnovers, but with an NFL defensive front and a world of speed in the back seven, Pelini has to send everyone and Mike the Tiger at Boeckman, while not allowing Wells to be able to work inside and cut outside. This is a great Ohio State offensive line that thrives on wearing down teams as the games go on, but LSU's D line isn't likely to wilt. If Michigan State and Illinois can generate pressure, then LSU definitely should be in Boeckman's face all game long.

Offensively, the line has to protect the quarterbacks. While there's a slew of next-level potential on the Tiger offensive front, it was way too inconsistent against anyone who tried to generate a pass rush. Even Tulane was able to get into the backfield from the inside. The Ohio State pass rush was non-existent against Florida last season, while it didn't do nearly enough to get to Juice Williams early on in the loss to the Illini. LSU has been able to get by all year with power running, one big pass play at just the right time, and more power running. As good as the Ohio State secondary is, it'll have problems if the LSU quarterbacks are getting a little bit of time and speedsters like Early Doucet get time to run free, and it'll have even more problems if it has to try to tackle bruising fullback Jacob Hester on a consistent basis.

Ohio State will win if... it survives a few haymakers. Playing in what'll amount to a home game in the Superdome, LSU will have the crowd and the momentum on its side from the opening snap. Ohio State won't be able to come out running the ball effectively until the overall adrenaline on both sides settles down, and it'll have to be prepared for a few ugly early three and outs. Even if LSU gets up to a quick lead, there can't be a "here we go again" attitude creeping in. LSU isn't above going through some in-game lapses in intensity, has made a habit out of committing a ton of penalties, and had a nasty habit of playing down to its competition for the last few months. Ohio State's offense will probably struggle early since it's not going to go for anything too risky, but the defense should be able to do its part and keep the LSU attack from getting going.

Ohio State has the best linebacking corps LSU has faced all season long, and that includes the tremendous Virginia Tech trio. James Laurinaitis is a top 20 pick whenever he's ready to come out, and Larry Grant and Marcus Freeman will almost certainly be NFL starters next year. Sophomore corner Donald Washington will play after all after being suspended thanks to the dreaded "violation of team rules," and junior corner Malcolm Jenkins might be the best in America. Throw pass rusher extraordinaire Vernon Gholston into the mix, and OSU has every bit the talent, athleticism and skill on defense that LSU boasts. What it doesn't have is Glenn Dorsey, but the Buckeyes are good enough to mix it up on the inside once LSU tries to get physical. The key will be to hang around. The pressure is obviously on both teams, but LSU is supposed to win this; the world is waiting for Ohio State to soil itself again in front of an SEC team. LSU, now that it's healthy, might finally play up to its talent level again, but the same goes for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes can play.

What will happen: Neither offense will look sharp thanks to the next-level play of the defenses, so it'll likely be up to a key mistake and/or a big kick return to turn the tide. That's where Trindon Holliday comes in. The LSU return game has stunk all season long, but Holliday will break one big run to set up the offense, the defense will force Boeckman to turn it over at least twice, and Early Doucet will hit one home run on a big third down play.
LSU will be in for a fight, but it'll finally be able to get comfortable midway through the fourth quarter on a key turnover to get the momentum its way.

Line: LSU -5 ... CFN Prediction: LSU 27 ... Ohio State 20

- 2008 BCS Championship History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More