Ohio State vs. USC Fearless Prediction

Posted Sep 9, 2008

It's finally here. It might have lost a little luster after Ohio State's average performance in a win over Ohio, but this is still the game of the year as Mark Sanchez and USC try to roll past Terrelle Pryor's Buckeyes? Will this really be a Trojan blowout as expected? Check out the CFN Fearless Prediction on the showdown.

Ohio State (2-0) vs. USC (2-0)

September 13th, 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC

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While the luster has diminished a bit after Ohio State went through the motions against Ohio in a way-too-labored 26-14 win, this is still the biggest of the big regular season games. It's the one everyone has been waiting for since LSU finished up its business with the Buckeyes on January 7th, and if the two teams play up to their capabilities, this should be the game of the year.

This could easily be a BCS Championship matchup and no one would blink. Over the last few years, this was the matchup many wanted to see for the national title, or at least for the Rose Bowl, but the two superpowers have just missed each other year after year.

USC Ohio State
Total Offense
558 ypg 383.5 ypg
Total Defense
187 ypg 164 ypg
Scoring Offense
52 ppg 34.5 ppg
Scoring Defense
7 ppg 7 ppg
Run Offense
208 ypg 206.5 ypg
Run Defense
32 ypg 67 ypg
Pass Offense
350 ypg 177 ypg
Pass Defense
155 ypg 97 ypg
Turnover Margin
+2 +2
CFN Prediction: 10-2
2008 Record: 1-0

at Virginia W 52-7
Ohio State
at Oregon State
Arizona State
at Washington State
at Arizona
at Stanford
Notre Dame
Ohio State
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 2-0

Young St W 43-0
Ohio W 26-14
at USC
at Wisconsin
at Michigan State
Penn State
at Northwestern
 at Illinois
Position Ratings
relative to each other
USC 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 4.5
4 RBs 5
3.5 Receivers 4.5
4 O Line 4.5
4.5 D Line 4
5 Linebackers 5
5 Secondary 5
3 Spec Teams 5
5 Coaching 5

1990 is the last time the two played, a 35-26 Trojan win, and the 1985 Rose Bowl, a 20-17 USC victory, was the last time the two met in Pasadena. It's not like they haven't come close.

Had USC not gagged away a 13-9 loss to UCLA on the last day of the 2006 regular season, it would've played Ohio State for the national title. Instead, Florida snuck in and smacked the Buckeyes.

Last season, the dream matchup in the Rose Bowl appeared to be a foregone conclusion until West Virginia choked against Pitt and Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title to open the door for Ohio State (who has never played in the Rose Bowl under Jim Tressel) to play LSU in the 2008 BCS Championship game.

The showdown is finally here.

This is it. This is the game to get the respect back for an Ohio State team that has become a national punching bag after the two national championship losses. It's also and important game for a Big Ten conference that has seen its representative get pasted by the Trojans time and again in the Rose Bowl, not to mention a 38-17 pounding of Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl. In fact, since Penn State beat the Trojans 24-7 in the 1996 Kickoff Classic, USC has gone 7-0 against the Big Ten by a total score of 268 to 91, or an average of 37 to 13. To take this even further, Northwestern, in the 41-32 loss to the Keyshawn Johnson-led Trojans in the 1996 Rose Bowl, was the last Big Ten team to get more than 18 points against USC.

On the flip side, Ohio State hasn't exactly been hurting for wins. Over their last 40 games, the Buckeyes have gone 35-5 with two of the losses coming in national championships, one loss coming to a Texas team that won the 2005 national title, one loss coming to an Illinois team that went to last year's Rose Bowl, and one loss coming to a Penn State team that finished 11-1 and went on to win the Big Ten title and the Orange Bowl. The combined record of those five teams that beat the Buckeyes over the last 40 games was 58-8. And despite what a skeptical nation thinks, Ohio State has its share of wins over that span against the big boys, beating fantastic Texas and Michigan teams in 2006, Notre Dame in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and strong Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan teams last year.

In other words, both USC and Ohio State are pretty good.

So far this season, USC has played just one game, a 52-7 destruction of Virginia that was so complete and so impressive, it caused a shift in the rankings and a move from No. 2 to the top spot in the Coaches' Poll. Meanwhile, Ohio State dropped to fifth after beating Youngstown State and struggling too much with Ohio in a 26-14 win. Was it a look-ahead game for the Buckeyes, or are they really that mediocre? Was the Virginia win for real, or did a pumped up USC blow away a bad team? This game will answer all the questions, including some question marks about some key players.

Ohio State RB Chris "Beanie" Wells missed the Ohio game after suffering a foot injury against Youngstown State, and while there wasn't anything broken, it's been bad enough to keep him out of practice. Considered the key to the Buckeyes' success, now we'll see just how hurt he really is, and just how well USC has prepared for him. A big performance and a Buckeye win would propel Beanie to the top of the Heisman lists.

This is also a Heisman showcase for USC QB Mark Sanchez. While being in the hunt would be nice, for now, Sanchez needs to make the most of his chance to make his first really big statement as the new star of the USC show. While he filled in for an injured John David Booty last year and beat Arizona and Notre Dame, he was also at the helm in the loss to Oregon. After suffering a knee injury late in fall practices, he made a miraculous recovery in time to complete 26-of-35 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.

The Heisman, bragging rights, and a possible national title could be on the line here. The winner can punch its ticket to Miami if it wins out, while the loser will have work to do and will need help to play for the whole ball of wax.

Sit back, get comfortable, and enjoy. This is the game you've been waiting for.

Players to watch: Depending on who leaves early, who stays healthy, and who doesn't bomb in workouts and at the NFL Combine, there could be at least seven players in this game who'll go in the first round of next year's NFL draft, and there could be at least 15 who'll be taken within the top 100 picks.

The NFL scouts will have their eyes locked on the linebackers. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, along with USC's Rey Maulaluga and Brian Cushing, are all projected to be among the top 40 picks, but at the top of the pro prospect charts, along with Beanie Wells, are Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins and USC DT Fili Moala, who could each be the first players taken at their respective positions. Jenkins and Moala could each go in the top ten, if not top five.

Jenkins is a big, fast, lock-down cover-corner, but he could have his hands full with any one of the top USC targets. Vidal Hazelton hasn't yet been the superstar he was expected to be out of high school, and neither has Patrick Turner, but each was solid in the season opener with Turner catching two passes for 62 yards and a touchdown and Hazelton catching five passes for 33 yards. The new star is Damian Williams, the Arkansas transfer who caught seven passes for 91 yards against the Cavaliers. It's this trio of Trojan targets who have to shine for USC to win, and if they win the matchup with the loaded Buckeye secondary, Ohio State will be in big trouble.

Moala is a quick run-stuffer on the inside with the quickness to get into the backfield on a regular basis. His presence in the middle should force Ohio State to run wide more than it would like, and it also means the Buckeyes might need more mobility in the backfield in case the Trojan pass rush gets into a lather. That's where Terrelle Pryor comes in.

Everyone's No. 1 recruit got his feet wet in the first two games and showed a few flashes of greatness. He completed 4-of-6 passes for 35 yards, to go along with 52 rushing yards and a score against Youngstown State. He misfired on his two throws and ran for 37 yards against Ohio. Along with Beanie's foot, the big question this week was whether or not the Buckeye coaching staff was keeping the star-in-waiting under wraps for two games, or if he's really not going to be a big part of the game plan. He's the ultimate X factor.

Ohio State will win if ... it turns into 2007 Oregon. USC's defensive back seven is better than last year's back seven, but the line is a little bit worse, even if it's full of next-level talent. Oregon was able to beat USC last year by running the ball with Jonathan Stewart and Dennis Dixon, the two combined for 179 yards and three touchdowns, getting to Mark Sanchez and forcing him to hurry his passes, and stopping the USC running game, holding it to 101 yards. Overall, this Ohio State team is better than that Oregon squad, and it doesn't have to do anything crazy to win this game. The mistakes have to be kept to a minimum, there has to be a steady pass rush on Sanchez, and the run defense has to dominate the still-improving Trojan offensive line.

USC will win if ... it drops the hammer early with a few home runs. The last thing Ohio State needs is to have flashbacks to the last two national title games. If the Buckeyes get down 14-0 early and are forced to start throwing, and start trying to take a few chances, that'll play right into the Trojans' hands. USC is a swagger team. When the momentum starts going its way, it turns the dial up to 11 and it's over. Ohio State is more about being solid, not making mistakes, and taking the big plays when they're there. USC is more about going for the jugular. The OSU manhood is tied into the defense, and if USC starts breaking off big runs early, and if Sanchez gets a little time to throw and is effective deep, then the floodgates might open up.

What will happen: Ohio State brought its A game against Ohio .... riiiiiiight. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes have made a living out of playing down to their opponents, but coming through when needed. In 2002, Cincinnati lost to Ohio State 23-19 when a pass went through the receiver's hands in the end zone on the final play. That Buckeye team survived by the skin of its teeth game after game, and then it beat a supposedly unbeatable Miami team for the national title. This year's team has the same make up.

Ohio State has been hearing about two things, 57 times a day, every day since January 8rh: losing two national titles, and the USC game. Of course the Buckeyes were looking ahead to this game. Of course USC saw the Ohio game and, with two weeks off, is going to have a pang of overconfidence. Of course Ohio State is every bit as fast, athletic, and good as USC. The difference is experience. Ohio State has more of it than USC.

The Buckeyes will win the turnover and special teams battles, and while Beanie and the running game will get stuffed, the Trojan ground attack will do next to nothing. Sanchez will be terrific. He'll have some big moments, make some key throws, and will show that he could really be the next great USC quarterback, but he'll also throw two key interceptions. Pryor will run for a touchdown, OSU QB Todd Boeckman won't make any mistakes, and Ohio State will shock the football world with a win that shouldn't really come as that great a surprise.

CFN Prediction: Ohio State 27 ... USC 23 ... Line: USC -11
Must See Rating: (5 Hole in the Wall - 1 First Blood) … 5
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