Here we are at the end of an unparalleled season—one in which we saw coaching dilemmas, unbelievable plays, and improbable upsets.
Now we cap it off with two teams with an unprecedented opportunity of winning their second outright BCS National Championship: the Buckeyes of Ohio State, and the Tigers of Louisiana State.
LSU is the favorite heading into the Superdome, with the Buckeyes national perception soiled by last year's title game against Florida.
Don’t be confused, though—this is not the same Ohio State team which rolled over the previous year.
In fact, it’s a completely opposite scenario altogether. From favorites to underdogs; from the comfy confines of their “Second Home” in Arizona to LSU’s backyard; from media darlings to punching bags.
One thing is for certain: If OSU loses focus of what is at stake here, you better believe it will be another head-hanger in Columbus. With all that being said, I would expect the Buckeyes to come out firing with everything they’ve got. This is going to be a good one, folks.
I am going to examine this game from an Ohio State point of view as objectively and fairly as possible, trying to acquaint those of you unfamiliar with the Buckeyes.
#33 MLB James Laurinaitis #50 DE Vernon Gholston #2 CB Malcolm Jenkins
#20 CB Donald Washington #97 DT/DE Cameron Heyward #6 LB Larry Grant
#17 QB Todd Boeckman #28 RB Chris Wells #80 WR Brian Robiskie
#9 WR Brian Hartline #74 OL Kirk Barton #75 OL Alex Boone
Players to Watch:
#4 WR Ray Small #3 RB Brandon Saine #7 QB Antonio Henton
TE Position #5 DB Chimdi Chekwa #21 DB Anderson Russell
Keys to the Game:
The Battle Within
Ohio State must run the ball, then run some more, and then run it again. Chris “Beanie” Wells is an absolute beast with a rare blend of size, power, and speed. Brandon Saine and Mo Wells provide a nice change of pace.
The Buckeyes MUST establish the run, and take it to Glenn Dorsey and that D-Line early. No need to give Dorsey momentum and confidence early on to couple with his extraordinary talent.
It all starts up front with the big men. The Buckeyes yet again face an above average D Line, but will they be able to contain them?
On the defensive side of the ball, Gholston and Heyward have come on strong late in the season, both making there case for double teams. If they play as they have been, Matt Flynn and/or Ryan Perriloux better be ready to move around a bit.
The question here has been and will be the production of the DTs. They have been solid, but not spectacular. They need to make some plays—especially on third down—to get their defensive teammates off the field, and let Tressel-ball take effect on offense.
It’s been feast or famine with this year’s unit. Freshman LB Brian Rolle has been a star on special teams, but if he and a select few can’t get to their man, look out.
LSU has very capable return men, so this is going to be an integral cog in the machine. OSU can ill afford to give LSU good field position all game—let alone special-team points.
Keep Em’ In Front
LSU loves their trick plays, and have speed to go around, so the Buckeyes secondary better be ready. They must play aggressively—but at the same time, not allow LSU to get big plays over the top. This doesn’t mean to sit back in a soft zone and get chewed up underneath akin to the Florida game, but rather to stay disciplined, and use their heads.
Michigan provided a good blueprint with which to attack a spread/speed offense: Come with a plethora of blitz packages, and bring them often, while trusting your secondary to match up in man coverage. If they do this, and make LSU alter their game plan—advantage, Buckeyes.
The Bucks must want it. Prove the nay-sayers wrong. Punish with every hit, fight for every yard.
Last years unit did not do this. They played without inspiration and took everything for granted. This year's team must have a collective chip on their shoulders, using all of the media's negativity and turning it into motivation.
Ohio State only needs to look back at 2002 to see what all of this bulletin board material can do for a team. Even LSU has provided some verbal ammunition for the Buckeyes, and if OSU can channel that into on-field performance, they could be very dangerous.
The Vest vs. The Hat
Jim Tressel is widely considered one of the best game-day college coaches in the country. Les Miles leaves something to be desired—at least that’s what I hear from some LSU fans. No doubt Les can coach, as evidenced by his team playing in the National Championship.
But it seems the ridicule comes from untimely or questionable play-calling. I haven’t watched enough LSU games to confirm or deny that, but if true, he can ill afford to make such errors in a game of this magnitude.
As an OSU fan, I don’t have a ton of confidence in Todd Boeckman. He looked good early on but has fallen off lately. This is why it is so important that OSU establishes the run, to take some pressure off of Boeckman. I expect Chris Wells to battle and keep this team in it, offsetting the Boeckman factor, and Tressel has enough tricks up his sleeves to pull out a victory against a very talented LSU team:
OSU 34 LSU 31
With all that's been said and with the season as unpredictable as it has been, only one thing is certain: We're in for one hell of a night. That my friends, is why college football is the greatest sport of all!