USC vs. Ohio State Fearless
Week 2 ... Sept. 13 Games
- Big Ten
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Week 2, Part 1
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USC (1-0) at Ohio State (1-0), 8:00 EST, Saturday, September 12, ESPN
Why to watch: Alright, Big Ten, it's finally time to slay the demon. Ohio State might not have the veteran talent of the last three teams that ended up in the BCS, including two national title appearances, but it's good enough to be considered by most to be the favorites to win the Big Ten title, if it's not going to be Penn State. While a shaky start to the season, needing a returned two-point conversion attempt to put away Navy, was hardly the type of confidence-inspiring starter to suggest the Buckeyes are ready to make a run for Pasadena for the January 7th game instead of the one that'll be played in the Rose Bowl on January 1st, but everything can change with a win over a USC team that has slapped around the Big Ten for the last several years including a 35-3 pasting of Jim Tressel's club last year in Los Angeles.
The numbers are astounding. USC has won its last nine games against the Big Ten, all blowouts, with the last loss coming in the 1996 Kickoff Classic against Penn State. Not only has USC owned the Big Ten, but it has owned everyone outside the Pac 10, outside of the 2005 Vince Young-led Texas team, with that one loss in the 2006 Rose Bowl the only defeat to a non-Pac 10 team since September 21, 2004 with Kansas State won 27-20. The Trojans were supposed to be challenged by a 2003 season-opening trip to face a national-title-thinking Auburn and came away with a 23-0 win. There were supposed to be problems playing in Baltimore against a high-powered Virginia Tech in 2004, and USC won 24-13. At Arkansas, against a team that would end up in the 2006 SEC title game … 50-14. At Nebraska in 2007 … 49-31, in a game that wasn't even that close. Last year at Virginia … 52-7. This program doesn't lose big non-conference games, but there are doubters this season.
Even with last week's flawless 56-3 win over a not-that-bad San Jose State, USC isn't getting universal love and respect as a possible national title contender, or even in this game, the way previous Pete Carroll teams would've. The replacements at linebacker are one concern, but playing a true freshman, Matt Barkley, at quarterback has tempered expectations a little bit. But if USC can go into Columbus and come away with the win, with Washington and Washington State ahead before the showdowns against Cal and Notre Dame, the BCS Championship buzz would get rolling again. However, as good as this team might be, this game marks the kickoff of a stretch of four road games in the next five, and five road trips in the next seven. If USC gets to Pasadena for the national championship, it'll have earned it.
But this game is more about Ohio State. A national punching bag after two ugly losses in BCS Championship games, and after last year's embarrassment against the Trojans, this is the chance for the program to show that it really does belong in the discussion among the elite of the elite, and not be thought of as an extremely talented team that gets to play in a mediocre Big Ten. The program needs this win, and the conference could use it even more. The league would get an instant shot of credibility if the Buckeyes could pull this off, while on the flip-side, the Pac 10 could slide into irrelevance, especially after Oregon's clunker at Boise State, if the Trojans can't keep up their road magic. It's the college football non-conference game of the year (at least for now), and it's one of the handful of games that will define the season and, possibly, the national perception of the programs and their leagues for the next few years.
Why USC might win: The USC offensive line should flatten the Ohio State defensive line. Even during the glory times of the last three seasons, and even with NFL talent like Vernon Gholston patrolling the front, the Buckeye defensive line was considered the team's weak link compared to the rest of those loaded teams. Yes, OSU was among the best in the nation against the run, even at the top of the charts for some stretches, but most of that was due to the linebackers and part of it was because teams had to throw to keep up with Buckeye offense. This year's defensive line isn't special, but the USC offensive front is. Even with star center Kristofer O'Dowd hurt with a knee injury, this is still the best offensive line in the country with guard Jeff Byers moving to the middle and veterans Alex Parsons and Butch Lewis manning the guard spots. Unless Ohio State gets funky with its blitzes and its pass rush, Barkley might not get touched, while the Trojan running game that ripped through Dick Tomey's San Jose State defense for 342 yards could dominate from the start and hold the momentum the entire game.
Why Ohio State might win: Barkley throws interceptions. At least that's the knock on him. He was flawless against San Jose State, but the concern about starting Barkley wasn't that he's a true freshman, he's mature beyond his young age and is more than talented enough to handle the work, it's that he still needs to work on ball security. For all the big things he did at Mater Dei High School in California to make him considered by many to be the nation's No. 1 recruit, he also made a lot of mistakes throwing 18 picks in his senior year while only completing 54% of his throws. Once he got to USC, his accuracy has been fine but he still threw too many picks in practices. The Ohio State game plan will be simple: stop the run, load up against the run, send in everyone including the waterboy at the running game, and make Barkley win the game. It's a pick-your-poison option, but there will be several chances for the Buckeye secondary to come up with big plays, and it has to take advantage every time.
Who to watch: Terrelle Pryor, you're up. Everyone's superstar, unquestioned No. 1 prospect coming out of high school last season came up with an excellent true freshman season. He was the one positive in the loss to USC, giving the Trojans fits when used sparingly rushing for 40 yards and completing 7-of-9 passes for 52 yards when given a chance, and he had enough WOW moments throughout last year to suggest that he only needed a little bit of tweaking before he'd become the player everyone was waiting for. While he busted his tail this offseason to become a better passer, he didn't show much in the opener against Navy, completing 14-of-21 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown with an interception, while only rushing for 30 yards and a score. If Ohio State is going to win this game, Pryor can't just be good; he has to transcendent good. He has to be Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl. He has carry the program, and the Big Ten, on his back and control the game from the start. If he can do that, not only will Ohio State be in the thick of the national title chase, but he'll be in the front row among Heisman contenders.
Also looking for Heisman consideration will be USC junior running back, Joe McKnight. After tearing off 125 yards on just ten carries against Illinois in the 2008 Rose Bowl, USC appeared to have its next Reggie Bush-like running back talent ready to roll. But he was never quite right throughout last year, ran for a disappointing 659 yards and two scores, and was forgotten about on a national scale. He showed he's back last week with a scintillating 145-yard, two touchdown game on 14 carries against San Jose State, and he also caught a pass for 21 yards and returned a punt 18 yards. He'll be Job One for Ohio State's defense, and if he's having a big day, then the dominoes will fall from there.
What will happen: You know what's going to happen. You know exactly what's going to happen. It's USC in a really, really big game, and it's going to play like USC. The Trojan defensive front that came up with a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and five sacks last week will spend the game sitting on Pryor's head, while Barkley will have a cool, calm, efficient game that will get him on the cover of Sports Illustrated next week with the headline, The Next Big Thing.
CFN Prediction: USC 34 … Ohio State 17 ... Line: USC -6.5
Must See Rating: (Curb Your Enthusiasm Season Premiere 5 … The Fresh Beat Band 1) … 5
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