Kevin Paul (aka KP's Blog), a contributing writer for FOXSports.com, and I have started a series called "You're Right, I'm Wrong." And no, that's not a typo.
Similar to Rev's and Bluegrass Lady's "He Said, She Said," Kevin and I will debate some hot topics. We'll try to do it once a week and look forward to any topics that you think might be worthy of discussion.
First up, the BIG game in September: USC @ Ohio State—and Lisa Horne takes USC, big surprise, over Ohio State...
I'll be the first to say it—the state of Ohio is in another down year, and I don't see any forthcoming changes in the near future in Columbus. Sure, the Buckeyes are 46-1 at home vs. non-conference teams, but their biggest game, against Texas in '05, was a loss.
The factors which will change the game:
The Trojans return everyone but Mark Sanchez (WR Vidal Hazelton transferred) on their offense. While Aaron Corp is a bit untested, there is no reason to believe he won't pick up where Sanchez left off.
He had an almost perfect spring, is tall and fleet-footed, has incredible accuracy, and has one of the best receivers in the country to throw to—Damian Williams. Look for naked bootlegs to throw the Buckeyes off balance for the first half of the game, then short "unders," swing passes to the checkoff receiver (FB Stanley Havili or RB Joe McKnight), and power running.
USC has arguably the best O-line in the country (preseason), and I see no reason why the Trojans won't put up 500 yards of total offense.
The Buckeyes lost some big contributors (they return only five starters)—RBs Beanie and Maurice Wells, as well as WRs Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie. They also lost three starters on the O-line.
There's also this—QB Todd Boeckman. He may have driven some Buckeyes fans nuts, but he saved the Buckeyes from a rout in the Fiesta Bowl.
Terrelle Pryor is young and deeply talented, but he also makes youthful mistakes and can be wildly inconsistent.
While the Buckeyes should still have good rushing production from some talented backs this season, their O-line wasn't up to snuff last year, and with three losses on the line this season, I see trouble looming ahead if they don't find some more agile tackles.
The Trojans lost eight defensive starters with all of them most likely playing on Sundays. You would think that USC would be in serious trouble. They very well may be. However, in spring practice, the defense looked hungry.
DC Rocky Seto says the linebacker unit is faster than last year's. USC lost Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, and Kaluka Maiava to the NFL, but have another load coming up: Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan, and Malcolm Smith and an incredibly improving Luther Brown and Nick Garratt. They are less experienced but just as talented.
The secondary should hold on to the top-ranked pass defense unit title. They lost two greats but return six of eight and are very deep. Taylor Mays is built like a LB and hits like a truck, but he's a free safety.
The D-line is very inexperienced but loaded with talent. This unit is the biggest question mark. True frosh DE Nick Perry had an incredible spring and may be camping out in the Buckeyes' backfield if they don't contain his pass rush.
The Buckeyes gave up 110 yards (per game average) against the rush, but there is a disturbing stat—in their four biggest games, they allowed at least 150 yards of rushing. Against Youngstown State, Purdue, Troy, and Ohio, their stats were well below that 150-yard mark, which makes sense.
But against the power-running big boys (USC, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Illinois), they gave up huge chunks of turf over 150 yards.
What does this mean? Their stats are inflated, and with only losing their NT Nader Abdallah, I expect the production to be much the same.
They'll stop the little teams but will have no answer against a superior Trojan O-line and their stable of horses in the backfield.
The secondary looks pretty solid, but they did lose Malcolm Jenkins, a player that OCs scheme against. They also lost stud LBs Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis, the heart of their D.
But again, there are some interesting tidbits about LY's D—as decent as last year's D was, their sack production decreased by 15 sacks, and they gave up almost 60 yards more than the previous year against both the pass and rush. If last year's D was pretty good and they lost three huge stars, their D this year should be a bit underwhelming.
Overall, I give the Buckeyes points for the D-line. They will be facing the top O-line in the country, but their D-line is more experienced than the Trojans'. Linebacker units are even simply because both teams lost huge talent, and the secondary unit of USC gets a huge edge over the Buckeyes.
Slight Edge: USC
USC lost one of its best players in kicker David Buehler. How good was he? He was drafted in the NFL's fifth round due to his NCAA No. 1 (48 of 88) ranking for touchbacks. The Trojans also lost punter Greg Woidneck.
Right now, there is no clear winner for kicking duties, but Pete Carroll did hire a special teams coordinator (first one since 2001) to get this unit in shape. The kick return units for USC have always been a glaring deficiency, and this year will probably see some runbacks.
The Buckeyes lost some huge talent as well—K Ryan Pretorius and P A.J. Trapasso. The Buckeyes usually do very well replacing their kickers, so I see no reason why there will be any drop-off this season. Their kick return unit was down last year (19.2), so like USC, the kicking game could give Buckeyes fans fits.
Edge: Ohio State
At first glance, one would give the Buckeyes the edge in coaching. After all, USC has a new DC (Rocky Seto), a new OC (John Morton), and some other new faces as well. The Buckeyes have all the important coaches back, including assistant of the year Jim Heacock.
So the Buckeyes have the edge, right?
Wrong. Pete Carroll is a defensive-minded genius. The D is his niche, and this year, he has to jell an inexperienced unit. Does anyone really want to bet against him in big games?
The D looks extremely nasty and fast, and if he can unleash Perry on Terrelle Pryor without him over-pursuing, Pryor will make some ill-advised throws. The USC secondary will seize on that.
The biggest issue for the Buckeyes is Jim Tressel's tendency to play conservatively. He does have a huge threat in Pryor, but will he open the playbook and let Pryor loose? He did it against USC in the first half last year, and while Pryor did start off well, the Trojans' D made adjustments and shut him down in the second half. Tressel then resorted to more conservative play.
The biggest question mark is which coach will make the appropriate adjustments first. I'll put my money on Carroll. There may be some huge chunks of yardage against USC's D-line in the first half, but Carroll will adjust. I don't see Tressel adjusting as quickly.
The second factor is big-game play mentality. The Buckeyes have lost three straight BCS Bowls, while the Trojans have lost one in the last five. The Buckeyes have an all-time bowl record of 18-22, while the Trojans' record is 31-16. Make no mistake, this is a bowl game.
Is this really a big game? Probably more so for the Buckeyes than the Trojans. Why? Simple. For what seems like forever, Michigan and Ohio State fans have argued that the reason why USC has had such a great run in the Rose Bowl against Big Ten teams is because the Trojans have home-field advantage.
(I guess that brilliant game Texas won—at the Rose Bowl—for the BCS National Championship against USC has been conveniently forgotten.)
This is their chance to prove their point about home field advantage.
Is playing at the Shoe a big deal? Not really. The Rose Bowl holds over 100,000 people, so it's not like USC can't handle big crowds. In fact, USC has done very well on the road against non-conference teams in hostile venues.
Big wins @ Auburn, @ Arkansas, @ Virginia Tech (at Fed Ex Field), and @ Virginia early in the season have proven that Pete Carroll knows how to prep his teams for early road travel.
The philosophy is simple—score quick and early and take the home team crowd out of the game. But more than that, traveling from the West to the East is easier on the body than vice versa. Jet lag won't be a major factor. Weather isn't an issue either—Los Angeles in September is just as hot as Columbus.
What about the psychological factors? Ohio State doesn't fare well in big games—at least not lately—while the Trojans have a tendency to underachieve in little games but rarely fold in big games.
Tressel's record against BCS teams is 12-7, while Carroll's is 23-4. There is a bit of quiet desperation going on in Columbus. The SEC has owned the Buckeyes lately, and with a cupcake schedule this year, the Buckeyes won't be taken very seriously in the rankings if they lose to the Trojans. They have to win this game.
Tressel has been criticized for running a vanilla-style offense—with a big threat like Terrelle Pryor, Tressel has to open up the playbook. The Trojans' D did look susceptible to bootlegs and play-actions in spring practice—Corp ran off some big yards against the D.
Will Tressel test the Trojans early to see if they either contain or over-pursue?
I'll be the first to say it—if Tressel doesn't get more creative in play-calling and utilize Pryor's skills more, the scarlet and gray faithful will start to rumble. Loud. This game could be the biggest game of Jim Tressel's career. A blowout by the Trojans might be the beginning of the end. Yes, he won a BCS Championship, but any Miami fan will tell you he really didn't.
Don't bet against a cornered dog—they are usually the most ferocious when cornered.
Edge: Ohio State
Sure it's three months away, but right now, barring any injuries, the USC Trojans should beat the Buckeyes at the Shoe. There are some question marks on both teams, but overall, the Trojans have more talent and a head coach that prepares his teams better.
Pryor could be frustrated by the passing D and will probably have more success running the ball initially. The big albatross for the Buckeyes will be not adjusting fast enough. Their main focus should be not allowing USC's prolific offense to score early and take out the home crowd.
Finally, there is this: The Buckeyes believe "the punt is the most important play in football." It may be the most important play in football if you have to punt a lot, but third down conversions are the most important play in college football. Period.
Last year, USC ranked 25th in third down conversions, while Ohio State ranked 34th. The two teams that went to the National Championship Game were ranked in the top 10 for third down conversions. Not punting.
USC was ranked No. 96 in punting, while Ohio State was ranked No. 40. Ohio State averaged 4.5 punts a game, while USC averaged around 3.5.
The Trojans averaged less than one punt per quarter and did it against 11 BCS teams. Ohio State averaged more than one punt per quarter against nine BCS teams, one FCS team, and a non-BCS conference team (Troy).
Prediction: USC 37, Ohio State 17
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