Ohio State vs. Arkansas: 5 Things To Watch for in Tonight's Sugar Bowl
For the last week, the dominant storyline surrounding tomorrow night's Allstate Sugar Bowl has been the suspensions of the six Ohio State Buckeyes players who were implicated in selling Ohio State memorabilia.
Should they be allowed to play the bowl? Would they actually honor their commitment to Jim Tressel and stay in school next season?
It has certainly made for an interesting topic of discussion on Internet message boards and talk radio shows across the country.
Unfortunately, it has also detracted from what many had pegged to be another very interesting matchup and quite possibly an extremely competitive football game.
You can be certain that the players of Arkansas and Ohio State are really looking forward to tomorrow night's game in New Orleans, simply because for the three hours they spend on that Superdome field none of that should matter. Gold pants and gold rings will be irrelevant for the first time in what seems like forever, and it will finally be time to get down to brass tax.
Both teams have something to prove, and even though this isn't for a national title, the nation will likely take an interest, because it promotes college football's biggest conference rivalry. The Big Ten and the SEC.
Fans in both the Midwest and the Southeast have seemed to draw lines, especially in the last several years, and it has been one of the more interesting debates in the game. It's a storyline that is far less scandalous but equally as intriguing as any tattoo parlor mischief.
And it's just one of the many reasons why this is shaping up to be a great ballgame.
These are 5 things you should watch for in tomorrow night's Sugar Bowl.
The Emergence of Knile
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Coming into the season, most pundits figured that the Arkansas Razorbacks would throw the football about 50 times a game and for good reason. They returned one of the nation's top quarterbacks in Ryan Mallett, as well as a dynamic receiving corps.
However, many SEC offensive coordinators and head coaches will be quick to point out it is very difficult to be successful in the SEC without balance. If you let the defensive coordinators of the nation's premiere conference (five of the top 10 highest paid assistants in the nation are SEC d-coordinators) know they only have to worry about one phase of your game, then you are in for a difficult season.
So following the home loss to Alabama, in which Ryan Mallett was picked three times, Arkansas began making more of a commitment to their run game, specifically sophomore tailback Knile Davis.
Over the next eight weeks Davis ripped off 1,072 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns. The Razorbacks found some balance, and after their shootout loss in Auburn, they ripped off six straight wins to end the season.
Which Terrelle Pryor Will We See?
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A lot of the questions surrounding Terrelle Pryor tomorrow will likely center around his recent controversy but what I want to know is which Terrelle Pryor will we get to see?
Do we get to see the Terrelle Pryor who dominated in last season's Rose Bowl and made the Buckeyes one of the favorites to win a national championship this season or do we get to see the Terrelle Pryor who disappeared in the Wisconsin game this season?
There is little doubt that Terrelle Pryor is one of the most physically-gifted football players in the country, and even though he may not be a prototypical NFL QB, he can still dominate a game with his arm or his legs.
The answer to this simple question is likely the single biggest determining factor in the outcome of this football game.
Strength on Strength
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Arkansas is one of those offenses that can score in a hurry and Ohio State, as usual, fields a defense that is as stingy as it is fast. It's always one of the more interesting debates in football. Unstoppable force or immovable object?
In this case, the unstoppable force is a Ryan Mallett-led Arkansas passing attack, and the immovable object is Jim Heacock's pass defense that leads the Big Ten this season.
One interesting thing is that Mallett has been prone to turnovers on occasion, and Ohio State has forced 18 interceptions this season while allowing just seven touchdown passes.
Who Wins the Crowd War?
Conventional wisdom says that Arkansas is a neighboring state of Louisiana so the Razorbacks are likely to have a bit of an advantage when it comes to crowd noise. However, after closer look, you realize that Fayetteville is 613 miles from New Orleans.
Columbus is about 910 miles away from New Orleans, but Ohio State is a notoriously well-traveling program, so it is far from a conclusion that Arkansas will have a distinctive advantage at the Superdome.
One thing that Ohio State will have to battle is the anti-Big Ten sentiment from SEC fans who will likely make their presence known in New Orleans.
Can Ohio State Finally Beat the SEC?
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Jim Tressel has had a Hall of Fame-type career at Ohio State. He has absolutely owned Michigan; he has won Big Ten titles and a BCS bowl, and he has also won a national championship in Columbus, but one thing he has failed to overcome is the Buckeye's glaring lack of success against the SEC.
Ohio State is one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, but they just cannot get the best of the SEC in a bowl game (0-9.) This looks like it may be their best shot yet, and Ohio State are favorites in the game, but it certainly won't be easy with all the extracurricular drama and a dynamic Razorback offense to deal with.
I'm not saying that it sullies the "Sweater Vest's" reputation by any means because it is a rather minuscule statistic, but it wouldn't be a bad drought for them to shake, and it is something that Tressel is aware of.