Here is an in-depth scouting report of the USC-Ohio State matchup on Sep. 13.
In my opinion, this will be a game controlled by two very dominant defenses. There are extremely talented offensive players on each side, but I think that both defenses are so loaded that they will control the outcome of this game.
Let's get down to the tale of the tape, shall we?
This matchup figures to be one of the best college football games in recent memory and could rival the Texas-Ohio State matchup of 2005, when Vince Young and company came into the 'Shoe to steal the spotlight.
Ohio State Defense
The Ohio State defense features arguably the best linebacking duo in all of college football with James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman manning the linebacker positions for the Buckeyes.
Freeman is one of the best blitzing linebackers in college football, and Laurinaitis is perhaps the most complete linebacker in the nation. Laurinaitis is blessed with uncanny instincts, speed, and ball skills that put him in rare company.
Both players will likely be first round draft picks in the 2009 draft. Laurinaitis is almost a definite to go in the top 10, as far as I'm concerned.
At cornerback, the Buckeyes have one of the best cover corners in all of college football, senior Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins has the ability to shut down nearly any opposing receiver out there and is very high on many scouts' draft boards.
He appears to be yet another lock to be drafted in the first round as long as he lives up to expectations this season.
Jenkins will be helped out by a kid named Chemdi Chekwa, a promising young corner who has gotten a lot of love in the preseason college football magazines.
The Ohio State defensive line is always tough in the trenches. This year they will have Lawrence Wilson, Todd Denlinger, and Doug Worthington battling for them in the trenches. I don't know much about these guys, but I expect them to be solid.
I know that Denlinger got a lot of PT in 2007, and Wilson broke his leg in the first game last year, so look for them to help fill the shoes of departed stud Vernon Gholston.
The kickers and punter for the Buckeyes are super dependable. Ryan Pretorious is one of the most reliable kickers in the country, and A.J. Trapasso has been booting bombs in Columbus for several years now.
The USC defense is, in my opinion, the best in the country. Ohio State's defense is a close second or third, but nobody in the country can match the talent, on paper, that the Trojans have on the defensive side of the ball.
Linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga are the best defensive players on this team, and that is saying a lot. Cushing and Maualuga were both highly touted players coming out of high school and have not disappointed.
Much like Laurinaitis and Freeman, Cushing and Maualuga will both almost definitely be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. It all depends on the NFL teams drafting and their need for a linebacker, but make no mistake about it—if they need help at the LB position, all four of those guys will be looked at.
Cushing is a freak of nature with blazing speed (remember the TD return he had on the onside kick against ND), while Maualuga lays bone-rattling hits—please see his devastating hit on UCLA QB Pat Cowan.
Freshman Chris Galippo was one of the most highly touted LBs in the country at the linebacker position, and he will look to provide some depth on the two-deep for the Trojans. He's a name that I definitely remember.
The cornerbacks for the Trojans are probably not as talented as the Buckeyes' corners, but they should be solid enough to not cause any big time problems for them. However, the secondary did see lapses in certain games last year and was exposed by the Stanford Cardinal shocker.
Shareece Wright and Cary Harris are the two corners for USC. I don't know that much about them, but I do remember hearing both names in the past couple of years, especially Wright. Their game experience will serve them well.
Junior Averell Spicer looks to be a force on the Trojan defensive line, and defensive end Everson Griffin posted five sacks last season as a freshman. I would look out for Griffin and look for him to post some huge numbers this season.
Fili Moala is expected to start at defensive tackle again and is very talented. I'd look for a big season from him. He's very impressive.
If the most talented part of the Trojans defense is their linebackers, then not far behind are their safeties. Taylor Mays is a linebacker playing safety, and at 6'4", 225 pounds, Mays has scouts simply foaming at the mouth. He is dripping with jaw-dropping levels of size, athleticism, and speed. Mays is a hard hitter and has been one of the best safeties in college football for the past few seasons.
Kevin Ellison is another big safety at 6'1", 225 pounds for the Trojans, and I'd look for him to cause serious problems for opposing teams looking to go deep against USC.
I don't know much about the returning punter and kicker—PK David Buehler and P Greg Woidneck—but I know both are good enough for the position to not be a worry for Pete Carroll and company.
Running back Joe McKnight resembles Reggie Bush in that he can do a little bit of everything. He will certainly be dangerous on punt returns for USC. Look for McKnight to break a big one in this game.
Ohio State Offense
If there is one thing about evenly matched big time games, it is that a team's greatest weakness is magnified on the big stage.
I've met Todd Boeckman before, and he's a great person, but in the big games last season he was a liability for the Buckeyes. He struggled mightily when teams were able to bring pressure. That's not what you want to hear if you are an Ohio State fan and guys like Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, and Everson Griffin will be coming at Boeckman from all angles.
The Ohio State offensive line is solid, but guys like Alex Boone must prove once and for all that they were worthy of their lofty billing coming out of high school with a big time year. The jury is still out on Alex Boone, in my opinion. He's a good tackle with massive size, but he still needs to prove himself.
Perhaps the best football player on the Ohio State roster, and the man that will likely help to keep the Buckeyes in this game, is Chris "Beanie" Wells. He's the most talented power running back in college football and reminds me an awful lot of Adrian Peterson. Wells can run inside, he can run outside, and good luck standing in his way, because he will bowl you over and run right through you en route to cruising to the end zone.
Wells is one of the most talented Ohio State running backs I have ever seen in my life, and I think he has an excellent shot to win the Heisman Trophy, simply because he will get a ton of touches on a high profile team with a very favorable schedule to get them to the national championship—other than this big matchup.
Wells had offseason surgery on his left had and wrist, and it will be interesting to see if injuries flare up again. I'm doubting that will be a problem. If he stays healthy, he's virtually a lock to be a top 10 draft pick and probably the first running back selected in the 2009 NFL Draft.
The Buckeyes feature an excellent pair of receivers that are very dependable in Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie (aka Robo).
Robo has a knack for making the acrobatic catch and has remarkable hands and body control. I saw him catch several passes last season leaping backwards in the air before crashing to the turf. Simply beautiful catches. Hartline has a phenomenal set of hands and rarely drops the football from what I have seen of him.
Tight end Rory Nichol is one of the better tight ends in the Big Ten. He has a good set of hands and is a good blocker. He's also very tough from what I hear from one of my buddies that has met him.
Running back Brandon Saine is one of the faster college football players I have ever seen. I agree with one Buckeye fan who told me he needs to be lined up in the slot and utilized as a receiver for the Buckeyes to use his game-breaking speed in mismatches.
Maurice "Mo" Wells is solid for the Buckeyes, but I think he dances too much behind the line of scrimmage. I think he just needs to pick a hole and run to it. He'll help to keep Beanie fresh if the Buckeyes hope to land a third straight BCS National Championship Berth.
The X-factor for Ohio State is the running back playing quarterback named Terrelle Pryor. Pryor is arguably the biggest recruit ever to land in Columbus and is probably the most hyped recruit in college football history. He's proof that college football recruiting is rapidly getting out of control. So much attention, so much hoopla—I think it will only get worse.
Pryor is a phenomenal runner in the open field, and I would look for Ohio State's coaches to put TP in on clear running situations, QB draws, and maybe to run some fake zone reads with TP out of the shotgun. He's still very raw as a passer and has a very long way to go (he only threw three or four passes in his state title game).
If he listens to Ohio State's coaches, the sky is the limit for Pryor, but I am very wary of how he will be able to handle the spotlight and pressure in Columbus.
Pryor will pose a tough player to game plan for, especially since USC's coaches won't be able to see that much film of him, besides the first three games. It will be interesting to see how much the Buckeyes use him in this game.
The more talented, but more unproven quarterback in this matchup is quarterback Mark Sanchez of the USC Trojans.
If Sanchez gets injured, I'd look for super recruit Mitch Mustain to be the man under center for the Trojans. Sanchez has much more familiarity with the offense and has had more reps with the receivers, but in the end I am on the side of many people in that I could definitely see Mustain taking over this job sometime later in the season.
On film, Mustain was one of the most talented quarterbacks I have ever seen coming out of high school, and I think he was very worthy of his lofty rating coming out of Arkansas. He's a golden-armed gunslinger.
USC is blessed with one of the most talented receiving corps in college football, but they must prove themselves first. They had plenty of drops last season, but I would look for big years this season from the likes of Vidal Hazelton, Ronald Johnson, and Patrick Turner.
I've heard people from the USC camp rave about Rojo, as he's called. He's supposedly a dangerous kick returner, so it will be fun to watch him this season. Hazelton and Turner were two of the most highly touted receivers in the country when they came out of high school. Hazelton is blessed with excellent body control, leaping ability, and hands.
Patrick Turner hasn't done very much yet, but like much of the USC receiving corps, I look for Turner and company to step it up this season and show the nation why they were so highly touted coming out of high school.
At running back, look no further than Joe McKnight as the man who could eventually stick the dagger in the heart of the Ohio State Buckeye defense. McKnight is a gamebreaker. Lightning-quick with a soft set of hands, he reminds many people of former USC legend Reggie Bush. Those comparisons are very deserved in my opinion.
The stable of running backs is very deep at USC, with the likes of C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson backing up McKnight. Fans could definitely see one or both of those players in the Ohio State game in order for the USC coaches to keep their do-it-all-playmaker McKnight fresh.
This isn't even mentioning prep All-American Marc Tyler, who might be lucky to see the field for USC this fall. Such is the case at a powerhouse loaded with four and five-star prospects at nearly every position.
One of the biggest question marks for the Trojans is the offensive line, and Pete Carroll has openly admitted that the Trojans may very well start rotating a group of players along the line. The only starter returning is the highly touted center-turned-guard, USA Today All-American Jeff Byers. He'll likely be on many scouts' radars this fall.
There's a group of players that have substantive game experience, but many of those positions appear to be up for grabs. That's what fall camp is all about.
If one thing could prevent the Trojans from reaching the national title, it's their offensive line. A weak offensive line poses an endless number of problems for a football team, and let's be honest—it all starts up front.
This matchup is nearly even on paper, with USC getting a slight edge on defense. I think they will be able to contain "Beanie" Wells to just 100 yards rushing.
I think you're going to see the USC linebackers come up to the line of scrimmage and stack the box, forcing Todd Boeckman to put the ball in the air. In the big games last season, he was a liability, and I think we are going to see that weakness exposed once again.
Joe McKnight breaking a big one will be the difference in a very tight, hard-fought game that will be controlled by both defenses.
USC Trojans 24, Ohio State Buckeyes 21