Last season on September 10, 2005, #4 Ohio State welcomed #2 Texas into the marquee game of the regular season. Most experts said the loser would probably be eliminated from the national title hunt, but the winner would be a frontrunner to run the table and play (presumably at the time) streaking USC in the Rose Bowl. What happened was nothing short of a classic, and would have been the most memorable game of last season if not for USC's heroics at Notre Dame and the Rose Bowl heroics of Texas QB Vince Young.
Ohio State switched quarterbacks every two drives, as Troy Smith (suspended in the first game against Miami-OH) slowly reclaimed the starting spot from Justin Zwick, while Texas had definite leadership in Vince Young. Every time it seemed the Buckeyes would get momentum, Texas would get a stop and hold the Bucks to a field goal, or the switching QB system would disrupt the offense.
Texas raced out to a 10-0 first quarter lead, which was answered by four consecutive scores for the Buckeyes in the second quarter to lead 16-10. A long kickoff return at the end of the first half allowed Texas to get a field goal before the break to cut the deficit to 3. Both offenses sputtered in the red zone in the third quarter and kicked successful field goals, leading to a 22-16 OSU lead at the end of three. The Buckeyes dropped a wide open touchdown pass on one of these drives, costing them a two-score lead.
With about five minutes left in the game, OSU kicker Josh Huston (5/5 on the day) had an opportunity to put the game away when he missed a 50-yard field goal. Vince Young then lead a heroic 65-yard drive in just under three minutes, capping the drive with a beautiful fade-away 24 yard pass in the corner to Limas Sweed to put the Horns up 23-22. A safety in irrelevant time provided the final score 25-22 Texas.
As the experts predicted, this launched Texas not only to the title game against USC but also to a national title, while eliminating Ohio State. With the exception of a tough (night, rain, freezing) loss for Ohio State three weeks later at Penn State, neither team would lose again.
This week brings the rematch of the most anticipated non-conference game from last season, and this season it will be even bigger (which makes sense, considering the game is in Texas). The top ranked Buckeyes come in to play the second ranked Longhorns, and the implications of the game are similar to last season. The winner will not only take over the top spot in all the national polls and BCS projections, but both teams have a reasonable shot at running the table if they get through this game. As a firsthand witness of OSU-UT last season, I can definitely say I saw one of the best games of all time at Ohio Stadium, and I would surmise this year would be similar for Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Even if you cannot get to Austin to see the game, the prime time national telecast should be a great opportunity to see it. Other writers on SCS.com have discussed this game already this week, but another in-depth look is required for this game of the week, and game of the year.
Letís start with the most anticipated matchup of the game: the vaunted Buckeye offense against the strong Longhorn defense. Ohio State is very similar to last seasonís Texas squad, with senior leadership coming from dual-threat quarterback Troy Smith, who grabbed the starting job after the Texas game last season and never looked back. The only significant loss from this offense was WR Santonio Holmes, but Heisman candidate speed-demon Ted Ginn Jr. (123 yards on 4 receptions, 2 TD against NIU) and Anthony Gonzalez (53 yards on 4 receptions, 1 TD) will step up easily to replace Holmes. This offense rolled over every defense it played last season after the Penn State game, including victories against powerhouses Iowa, Michigan, and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes picked up right where they left off a year ago last weekend against Northern Illinois, scoring touchdowns on each of their first four possessions and ending up with 488 yards of offense against MAC favorite Northern Illinois.
The Texas defense is mostly intact from last season though, and they held North Texas to 8 yards rushing and 95 yards of total offense last week. The Buckeyes are a whole different breed of offense though. The key to this game might be the line battle here, as Texas seniors will look to dominate the OSU line to get much-needed pressure on Troy Smith and stop the powerful running game featuring Antonio Pittman (111 yards on 19 carries against NIU) and Chris Wells (50 yards on 10 carries). Smith also had three touchdown passes before throwing an incomplete pass, and the good fortune could continue as Texas will be without their shutdown corner Tarrel Brown to slow Ted Ginn Jr.
As proven at Michigan last season, the Buckeyes know how to win in tough situations on the road using their offense now, so the loss of Brown might prove to be the achilles heel of the Longhorns in this contest. The only reason to believe Texas will stop OSU is that this defense has played against an even better offense, led by a similar quarterback (Young), the past three seasons in practice.
The other side of this game is also very interesting, if not talked about as much. Texas really did not lose anything besides Vince Young on offense, but rookie Colt McCoy stepped right up and had 178 yards and three touchdowns passing, as well as 38 yards on 4 rushes with one touchdown. You would think McCoy will be alright based on having all this talent around him, but North Texas is not even in the same league as Ohio State defensively. Ohio State is perhaps the only team in history to lose nine defensive starters (including two first round draft picks and a handful of others starting for pro teams this season) and come into the next season as a consensus preseason number 1. The Buckeyes can certainly hope to outscore other teams, but they would not be ranked number one in a normal year where the national title race is not so wide open with all top teams having major flaws.
The young but talented defense is still a question mark after the top returning RB in the nation, Garrett Wolfe, gained 171 yards on 26 carries and 114 yards on 5 receptions last week. This is only troubling because NIU is a one-man show, and the Buckeyes should have had better focus in stopping Wolfe. Texas has many weapons, and it all begins with the running game featuring two dangerous backs, Jamaal Charles (77 yards and 1 TD in 14 carries against UNT) and Selvin Young (44 yards and 1 TD in 12 carries). WR Limas Sweed will keep the new Buckeye backfield busy, as he is a very talented top target for Colt McCoy to throw to. The key here will be how involved the inexperienced Buckeye linebackers can be at pressuring McCoy, covering receivers in passing situations, and stopping the great Texas running back duo. The questionable young OSU defense will be fully battle tested for the whole world to see Saturday night, and this is also a great opportunity for Colt McCoy to prove himself.
There are always intangibles in every game, and this battle is no exception. One crucial advantage of Coach Tresselís OSU teams of the past has been the great special teams units featuring PK Josh Huston and Mike Nugent. This season might be the first time they struggle in this arena, as new kicker Aaron Pettrey missed both of his field goal tries against NIU. Texas has an advantage here with an experienced transfer PK Greg Johnson. Certainly the Buckeyes will hope to not need a FG to lock up the game like last year, where super-talented Huston missed his chance to put the game away.
The coaches are about dead-even, as Mack Brown proved he can coach the big game against OSU and USC last season. Jim Tressel also has a national title under his belt, and I would give him the play-calling advantage if not for his Buckeyes being completely different than his usual successful teams (conservative offense, silver bullet strong defense, and superior special teams).
The home field advantage is important as Texas has won 36 of its last 37 at home, but OSU had a huge advantage in that department last season and lost. Both teams know how to play in very loud environments, so that should not be a problem for the Buckeyes. The weather forecast is supposed to be around 100 degrees and humid in Texas, which favors the Longhorns since the Ohio summer heat and humidity is not nearly that bad. If this game turns into a horserace of offenses, expect Texas to have the advantage as OSU will probably tire faster in this weather.
The bottom line: losing CB Tarrel Brown will have a significant effect, just like having Troy Smith coming back from his suspension and having to share time with Zwick last season. I visited Dallas on a job interview this week, and all the Longhorn grads I interviewed with are very excited about the first number one ranked visitor to come to Austin in 50 years. Texas fans are not ready to give up the national title or their winning streak, so they will truly be out in force. The revenge factor is strong, and the home field advantage will be nullified a little bit as OSU fans are traveling very well to this game; furthermore, the OSU band will make the trip thanks to a huge generous donation for the trip expenses. Having the band and more road fans than usual will help keep the morale high on the Buckeye sideline, even if things go sour early.
If the game is close, you have to give the advantage to the Buckeyes simply based on leadership. Troy Smith is just like Vince Young last season, and he will step up more quickly than rookie Colt McCoy in the pressure situations on Saturday. Make no mistake about it: this game will be as close as last yearís three-point decision. With that being the case and with Texas missing their leaders form last season on both sides of the ball (to suspension and graduation), I have to pick the Buckeyes by four points in this instant classic.
The first week of the season had mostly blowouts, but lots of great games like Florida State defeating Miami. Just like last season, I am starting under .500 on my picks of the top 3 games of the week (Georgia Tech was a legitimate pick over Notre Dame, and I was not disappointed with their effort). Hopefully I can start the turnaround this week and my second game of the week is (12) Penn State at (4) Notre Dame. The Irish are not as good as advertised, and this is yet another opportunity in a tough September schedule to falter. Penn State has a better defense than Georgia Tech, but the Notre Dame defense looked good against GT and should have no more problems with the Nittany Lions. Assuming Brady Quinn and company finally get into a groove at home, I think Notre Dame takes this game by 10.
My final game of the week is Clemson at Boston College. Despite FSUís win over Miami, Clemson is still my favorite to come out of this ACC division. To accomplish this ACC title game appearance, Clemson must take care of their main competitors, FSU and BC. Boston College looked to have some weaknesses against Central Michigan, while Clemson rolled against weakling Florida Atlantic. I expect Boston College to be better battle-tested, and perhaps this will be enough to stop the Tigers in their home stadium. I doubt either teamís defense can stop the good offenses on both sides, but Clemson seems like the better bet in a shootout. Iíll take the Tigers by 7.
2006 year-to-date GOTW picking record: 1-2
Fitzyís Top 10 Ė Week 2
Have a great weekend everyone, and donít forget to tune in and see the game of the year on Saturday night! The beginning of a long road to clear up the real national title contenders starts this week, and Notre Dame, as well as the top two teams in the country, are in jeopardy this week. See you next week!