Déjà Vu? Season Has Distinctive ’08 Feel So Far

See if any of this sounds familiar.

Ohio State whips up on an undermanned foe in the season opener, yielding less than 100 total yards on defense and rolling to a shutout victory by more than 40 points. The following week, the Buckeyes inexplicably fall behind an instate opponent from the Mid-American Conference before making a comeback – which includes getting a touchdown on a 69-yard punt return.

Now, in the week three, OSU gets ready for a primetime road game in a place that hasn’t been very friendly to them in the past. The Buckeyes enter the game with their No. 1 tailback unavailable, causing some consternation in the offensive game-planning. And there is a fifth-year senior at quarterback with an ultra-talented freshman behind him, biding his time before he gets his chance at glory.

The aforementioned isn’t a rehash of what has happened so far this season for the Ohio State football team. It is an instant replay of the start of the 2008 season, featuring so many similarities it is quite simply mind-boggling.

In 2008, the Buckeyes began the season against Division I-AA Youngstown State and ground the Penguins into dust, allowing a mere 64 yards en route to a 43-0 victory.

Two weeks ago, Ohio State put on an uncannily similar performance against Akron, holding the Zips to only 90 total yards during a 42-0 win.

In 2008, the Buckeyes followed their powerful season-opening win with a lackluster victory over instate MAC rival Ohio. The Bobcats held a 14-6 lead in the second half before Ohio State came back to secure a 26-14 triumph helped in part by Ray Small’s 69-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Last week, OSU fell behind instate MAC rival Toledo before a comeback – fueled in part by a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Chris Fields – allowed the Buckeyes to pull out a 27-22 decision.

That brings us to week three of the season. In 2008, Ohio State traveled to USC for a nationally televised night game in the L.A. Coliseum, a place where the Buckeyes hadn’t done very well over the years. The team had won only two of seven games it had played there, and had lost their last three in a row by a combined score of 91-6.

OSU went to the West Coast without one of their top offensive weapons – No. 1 tailback Beanie Wells was sidelined with a foot injury. That put the pressure on the coaching staff to devise a game plan spotlighting fifth-year senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, who was beginning to hear footsteps from his backup, talented freshman Terrelle Pryor.

This year, Ohio State travels to Miami, Fla., and plays in a state where the team has played nine times before but won only twice. The Buckeyes head to the Sunshine State with No. 1 tailback Boom Herron sidelined for the third game of his five-game suspension, and the team will be led into battle by fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Bauserman. Behind Bauserman on the depth chart is talented freshman Braxton Miller.

We know what happened in 2008. Ohio State took an early 3-0 lead and then got crushed, 35-3, by a USC team that featured such future NFL stars as quarterback Mark Sanchez and linebackers Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. Boeckman had a particularly ugly performance, throwing for only 84 yards and pitching two interceptions. One of those was a 48-yard pick six by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who unceremoniously steamrolled Boeckman on his way to the end zone.

By the time the team played Sun Belt weakling Troy the following week, Boeckman had been benched and Pryor was the new starting quarterback for a season that wound up with a 10-3 record and 24-21 loss to a Colt McCoy-led Texas team in the Fiesta Bowl.

The point of this walk back through time? Only because it appears history has already repeated itself this year and if Ohio State wants to avoid another nationally-televised failure, perhaps the coaching staff will look at the playbook utilized at USC three years ago and do the direct opposite.

Not that the 2011 Miami team is the equivalent of the 2008 USC squad. Far from it. The Hurricanes have had more than their share of problems this year including a particularly nasty episode with the NCAA that is only now in the early stages of investigation. Additionally, they are a mistake-prone team seemingly more interested in playing off their bygone national championship era than rising to the level of their own talent.

Be that as it may, Miami is playing at home and playing for pride. Because of the offseason problems that cost the Buckeyes their head coach and starting quarterback not to mention most of their national prestige, the Hurricanes believe they have a wounded opponent coming to town and Ohio State’s performance last week against Toledo did nothing to dispel that notion.

To help with their self-confidence, the Buckeyes can point to last year’s 36-24 victory in Columbus – a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate – but many of those who came up with big plays last year against the Hurricanes are gone. Pryor threw for 233 yards and ran for 113 more while kicker Devin Barclay tied a school record with five field goals. Also, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa had two interceptions and defensive end Cameron Heyward took a pick back 80 yards to set up one of the team’s touchdowns.

Yet as well as the Buckeyes played last year, they could have played much better. The offense got inside the Miami 25-yard line on 10 occasions and came away with only three touchdowns, while special teams allowed the Hurricanes to return a kickoff and a punt for scores – the only time that has happened to Ohio State in its history. Both return men – Lamar Smith and Travis Benjamin – will be on the field for Miami tomorrow night.

To be brutally honest, Ohio State cannot afford the mistakes it made last year against the Hurricanes if it expects to come home with a victory. Last week’s performance made that abundantly clear.

This is a team that is desperately trying to keep its head above water until Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and offensive tackle Mike Adams return in week six. This is a team that remains undecided at the quarterback position. This is a team that is shaky – at best – in the kicking game. And this is a team that continues to search for its own identity.

Most of all, this is a team at a crossroads with tomorrow night’s game serving as a signpost to indicate if the Buckeyes truly are ready for primetime.

OSU-MIAMI TIDBITS

** Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell is only the 12th Ohio State head coach in history to win his first two games. A victory over Miami tomorrow night would make him only the ninth OSU head coach to win his first three. The most recent to accomplish that feat was Earle Bruce, who won his first 11 in 1979.

** Bruce was also the most recent OSU head coach to win his first road game with the Buckeyes. That was a 21-17 victory at Minnesota in ’79. Since then, John Cooper lost his road debut, a 42-10 blowout loss at Pittsburgh, and Jim Tressel dropped a 13-6 decision at UCLA in 2001, a game postponed one week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

** Counting Fickell’s victory over Akron in this year’s season opener, Ohio State head coaches are 21-1-1 in their debut games with the Buckeyes. The record is not nearly as good in their first road test – only 7-13-2.

** Ohio State enjoys a 3-1 edge in the all-time series with Miami. The Buckeyes took a 10-0 win in Ohio Stadium in 1977, a 31-24 double overtime victory in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that served as the BCS National Championship Game, and a 36-24 win in the Horseshoe last season. The Hurricanes’ lone win in the series was a 23-12 decision in the 1999 Kickoff Classic played at old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.

** The Buckeyes are 15-7 all-time against teams that are current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to being 3-1 against the Hurricanes, OSU is 3-0 vs. Boston College, 2-0 vs. North Carolina State, 1-0 vs. Virginia, 3-1 against Duke and North Carolina, 0-1 vs. Clemson and 0-3 against Florida State. OSU has never played Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest or Virginia Tech.

** The Hurricanes have a 31-22 record against teams currently in the Big Ten. In addition to being 1-3 against Ohio State, Miami is 4-0 vs. Iowa and Michigan State, 5-1 against Purdue, 5-5 vs. Nebraska, 2-2 against Northwestern and Wisconsin, 1-1 vs. Indiana and Michigan, and 6-7 against Penn State. The Hurricanes have never played Illinois or Minnesota.

** This game marks the first regular-season game Ohio State has played in the state of Florida. The Buckeyes have played nine previous times in the Sunshine State – all bowl games – and have posted a 2-7 record. All nine of those games have been bowl contests with the only wins a 27-10 victory over Colorado in the 1977 Orange Bowl and a 10-7 decision against BYU in the 1985 Citrus Bowl.

** When Miami return man Lamar Miller scored on an 88-yard kickoff return last year against the Buckeyes, he became the first Hurricane to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Devin Hester ran one back 100 yards at North Carolina State in 2004.

** When Miami junior Travis Benjamin took a punt back 79 yards late in the second quarter against Ohio State last year, it marked the first time the Buckeyes had surrendered a touchdown on a punt return since Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson ran one back 87 yards in 1997. Michigan won that game by a 20-14 final.

** It might surprise you to know the Ohio State offensive line has not surrendered a sack in three straight games and 90 consecutive pass attempts. That is the third longest such streak in Division I-A behind UAB (119) and Oklahoma (112).

** The Hurricanes will honor former All-America defensive tackle Russell Maryland (1986-90) at halftime during tomorrow night’s game. Maryland is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year following a career that included national championships in 1987 and ’89 and an Outland Trophy win in 1990.

** Sun Life Stadium is the seventh different name under which the 75,540-seat facility that is home to the Hurricanes has been known. The facility opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium and bore that name for the first decade of its existence. Since then, the stadium has also been known as Pro Player Park (1996), Pro Player Stadium (1996-2005), Dolphins Stadium (2005-06), Dolphin Stadium (2006-09) and Land Shark Stadium (2009-10).

** The game will be televised by ESPN with veteran play-by-play man Brad Nessler joined by former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge with color analysis. Holly Rowe will file sideline reports. Kickoff is set for shortly after 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

** Next week, Ohio State returns home to take on Colorado. The game is set for a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern and will be telecast by ABC/ESPN2 using the reverse mirror. (In case you have forgotten how the reverse mirror works, the game should be televised by your local ABC affiliate. If the game is not on that channel, look for it on ESPN2.)

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Sept. 14, 1991, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk set an NCAA single-game record for freshmen by rushing for seven touchdowns during his team’s 55-34 win over Pacific.

** Also on Sept. 14, 1991, Texas A&M freshman tailback Greg Hill ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the Aggies rolled to a 45-7 victory over LSU in College Station. Hill’s yardage total marked the best debut performance by a freshman in college football history.

** On Sept. 15, 1973, Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin began his NCAA record streak of 31 consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more. Griffin had 129 yards as the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-7 victory over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.

** Also on Sept. 15, 1973, Oklahoma gave head coach Barry Switzer a win in his first game with the Sooners, a 42-14 victory over Baylor in Waco. Switzer would go to post a 157-29-4 record with three national championships and 12 Big Eight titles in 16 seasons with OU.

** On Sept. 17, 1966, Joe Paterno made his debut as head coach at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to a 15-7 victory over Maryland in Happy Valley. The Terrapins, coached by Lou Saban, made a last-ditch effort to ruin Paterno’s debut but backup quarterback Phil Petry threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter. That victory was JoePa’s first of a Division I-A record 402 and counting.

** On Sept. 17, 1988, No. 10 Florida State got a pair of outstanding special teams plays to score a 24-21 upset at third-ranked Clemson. FSU’s Deion Sanders returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and then cornerback LeRoy Butler took a fake punt 76 yards to set up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining.

** On Sept. 18, 1965, UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens established a new NCAA record for most total yards gained in a debut game with 483 yards in a 61-15 rout of North Texas. In that game, Chuck Hughes of UTEP also set an NCAA record when he caught 10 passes for 349 yards. His 34.9 yards-per-catch average is the best single-game average in NCAA history for players with at least 10 catches.

** On Sept. 19, 1952, Duke took a 20-7 win over South Carolina in the inaugural game of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

** On Sept. 20, 1986, unranked Miami (Ohio) stunned eighth-ranked LSU, 21-12, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers committed seven turnovers in the game and had a punt blocked as Miami pushed its all-time record against SEC teams to an impressive 8-0-1.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** With the obvious exception of its fan base, there were likely very few tears shed when Notre Dame lost a last-second decision to Michigan on Saturday night. Fighting Irish fans continue to combine a unique blend of arrogance and suspended reality, believing their favorite team remains relevant in the national championship picture. (The Irish haven’t finished a season as a consensus top-10 team since 1993.) Still, you might have felt just a sliver of sympathy for UND after its latest collapse against Michigan. The Wolverines have beaten Notre Dame the last three years, scoring the winning points with 0:11, 0:27 and 0:02 showing on the clock.

** A crowd of 114,804 jammed into the Big House to watch Michigan’s come-from-behind (twice) victory over the Irish. That broke the Michigan Stadium record of 113,090, set during the 2010 season opener against Connecticut, and marked the largest crowd ever to watch a football game – college or pro.

** Four Big Ten quarterbacks passed the 100-yard mark passing and rushing last weekend. They were led by Denard Robinson of Michigan, who threw for 338 and added 108 more on the ground to account for 446 of the Wolverines’ 452 yards against Notre Dame. Also breaking the century mark through the air and on the ground were Taylor Martinez of Nebraska (219 passing, 166 rushing), MarQueis Gray of Minnesota (211-110) and Kain Colter of Northwestern (109-104).

** With his performance against the Irish, Robinson jumped from sixth to third on the Big Ten list for career rushing yards by a quarterback. Robinson now has 2,207 yards and leapfrogged over Rick Leach of Michigan (2,176, 1975-78), Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State (2,164, 2008-10) and Rickey Foggie of Minnesota (2,150, 1984-87). Robinson now trails only Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (3,895, 1998-2001) and Juice Williams of Illinois (2,557, 2006-09).

** Indiana has certainly had its problems in recent years with three straight losing seasons. But the Hoosiers, who are currently 0-2, haven’t lost two games to open a season since 2003 when they finished 2-10 under head coach Gerry DiNardo.

** Minnesota is also 0-2 to start the season for the first time since the 1992 team lost its first three under first-year head coach Jim Wacker.

** Illinois is 2-0 for the first time since 2005 – Ron Zook’s first season – a mini-winning streak that was followed by nine consecutive losses. Things might be different this time around, though. During last weekend’s 56-3 romp over South Dakota State, the Fighting Illini gave up only 96 yards of total offense. That marked the first time since 1998 that Illinois had held an opponent under 100 total yards.

** After his first six seasons at Virginia Tech, head coach Frank Beamer had a record of 24-40-2. Since then, Beamer is 176-55 (a .762 winning percentage) and secured his 200th victory with the Hokies on Saturday when his team rolled to a 66-13 rout of Division I-AA Appalachian State.

** Welcome back, Tennessee. The Volunteers were 18-20 over the past three seasons, but they are currently 2-0 following last weekend’s 45-23 romp over Cincinnati. Head coach Derek Dooley’s team is led by a bunch of talented sophomores, including quarterback Tyler Bray, who completed 34 of 41 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns against the Bearcats. UT gets a better gauge on its rebuilding project this week when the Vols travel to Gainesville to take on Florida, a team they haven’t beaten since 2004. In the six games since, Tennessee has been outscored by a 180-83 margin.

** Remember Eastern Michigan, the team Ohio State hung 73 on last season? Well, the Eagles are back in the air with a 2-0 start for the first time in 22 years. Of course, the two victories have come against a pair of Division I-AA opponents, but third-year head coach Ron English will take any win he can get. EMU, which plays at Michigan this week, hasn’t had a winning season since going 6-5 in 1995, and the Eagles haven’t been to a bowl game since the 1987 California Bowl where they took a 30-27 win over San Jose State.

** Any football aficionado can tell you it’s a pretty sure bet that any team losing the turnover battle by a 5-0 margin will likely lose. Of course, gamblers can tell you there’s no such thing as a sure bet. North Carolina turned the ball over five times Saturday to none for Rutgers, but the Tar Heels still managed a 24-22 win.

** Oberlin remains the last Ohio school to beat Ohio State, a 7-6 victory over the Buckeyes in 1921 – the year before Ohio Stadium was completed. The Yeomen don’t play Ohio State any more, but they still have an intercollegiate football program and celebrated a 42-0 victory last weekend over Kenyon. It marked the first shutout victory for Oberlin in 29 years.

** Congratulations to Alan Moore, who kicked an extra point Saturday for NAIA Faulkner (Ala.) during the Eagles’ 41-19 win over Ave Maria (Fla.). What makes Moore’s PAT so noteworthy? He is a 61-year-old Vietnam War veteran and grandfather of five who is now the oldest person ever to play in a college football game.

FEARLESS FORECAST

Last week, we were 8-2 straight up to move to 19-3 on the young season. We were almost as good picking against the spread, going 7-2-1 to get above the breakeven mark at 11-8-1 for the season. Now all we have to do is keep our heads above water.

Here are the games we’re watching this week:

TONIGHT’S GAME

No. 4 Boise State at Toledo: Based upon the Rockets’ performance last week at Ohio State, you might be tempted to take them in an upset. You might but we’re not. The Broncos invade the Glass Bowl after a 35-21 season-opening win over Georgia and a week off. No offense to Joe Bauserman, but Toledo is going to face a much more polished quarterback this week in Kellen Moore, who would probably be the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite if not for a guy named Andrew Luck. Look for Moore and his teammates to take care of business … Boise State 45, Toledo 14. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State: The Sooners rolled – and we mean rolled in every sense of the word – to a 47-17 win over the Seminoles in Norman last year and most observers think it will be pretty much the same tomorrow night in Tallahassee. Much has been made of the rebuilt FSU defense, which ranks third in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring. But those stats have been accumulated against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Division I-AA Charleston Southern. There is no doubt Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles pointed in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are still a ways away from elite status and this game represents just a little bit more than Fisher’s team can chew right now … Oklahoma 31, Florida State 14. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

North Texas at No. 2 Alabama: For all of those opponents who thought the Crimson Tide offense would sputter this year after the departure of graduated QB Greg McElroy, here’s some bad news – they still have Trent Richardson at tailback. Richardson and new running mate Eddie Lacy have pummeled opponents so far this year, combining for nearly 300 yards in only two games. Next up is the Mean Green, who enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with a defense that has given up an average of 545.5 yards in two games so far this year. We smell a rout … Alabama 49, North Texas 7. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN GamePlan)

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona: The Wildcats escape the frying pan only to jump into the fire. They took their lumps during a 37-14 loss at Oklahoma State last weekend and now draw the high-flying Cardinal in their Pac-12 opener. QB Andrew Luck gets all the pub, but Stanford has a pretty good running game, too. Evidence is last week’s 44-14 rout of Duke when the Cardinal piled up 205 yards on the ground to only 30 for the Blue Devils. When you realize Zona had only 41 yards last week against Okie State, you get a feel for where this one’s headed … Stanford 34, Arizona 10. (10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois: Things might be a little tighter for Bucky this week than you might imagine. First, they are on the road for the first time (the game is at Soldier Field in Chicago) and the Badgers aren’t exactly road warriors – seven of their last eight losses have come away from Camp Randall. Secondly, the Huskies are coached by former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, who might know a thing or two about stopping the Wisconsin ground game. Unfortunately, Doeren will also have to stop QB Russell Wilson, who has been superlative in his first two games, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for 444 yards and five TDs … Wisconsin 37, Northern Illinois 10. (3:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M: It seems rather amusing to hear the pundits opine that A&M wanting to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC serves as a distraction for this game. Maybe if the Aggies were playing someone a little stronger than the Vandals, who gave up 478 yards in their season-opening loss to Bowling Green. They are liable to give up even more this week since A&M trots out an offensive attack led by efficient QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Cyrus Gray, who has run for 100 yards or more in eight straight games … Texas A&M 47, Idaho 10. (7 p.m. ET, FSN)

Missouri State at No. 12 Oregon: We pretty much know the Ducks’ routine by now – run up the score on lesser opponents and then struggle with the big boys. No one would confuse the Bears with the big boys, especially after being preseason favorites to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference. They are basically going to Eugene to pick up their checks and try to keep Oregon from scoring in triple figures … Oregon 62, Missouri State 7. (3:30 p.m. ET, CSN)

No. 15 Michigan State at Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are beginning to get a complex about playing teams from Michigan. The Wolverines have literally cut out their hearts on last-second plays the last three years, and Sparty has beat UND four of the last six times they have met. Last year featured another fantastic finish with Michigan State scoring a touchdown off a fake field goal for a 34-31 overtime victory. This year, it could be just as close provided the fact Notre Dame’s offense doesn’t keep shooting itself in the foot with turnover after turnover. The Irish rank No. 13 nationally in total offense but dead last among 120 Division I-A teams in turnover margin. That stat alone tilts the pick … Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 27. (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa: If they entertain the slightest notion of an upset, the Golden Hurricane will have to figure out a way to slow down Okie State WR Justin Blackmon. The junior already has 20 catches for 272 yards and two TDs this year and is working on an NCAA record streak of 14 straight games with at least 100 yards receiving. Blackmon caught three TDs last year against Tulsa during a 62-38 romp in Stillwater, and if you think the Hurricane have gotten any better at pass defense, know this: they gave up 417 to Oklahoma in their season opener … Oklahoma State 48, Tulsa 21.  (10 p.m. ET, FSN)

No. 17 Ohio State at Miami (Fla.): To say we’re conflicted about this game would be an understatement. Does Ohio State have the ability to win this game? Absolutely. Will the Buckeyes win? In light of what happened last week against Toledo, that’s a good question. We keep going back to last year’s game and all of the production OSU has lost since then. We’re also bothered by a lack of execution on special teams this year, something that kept the Hurricanes in last year’s game. It all makes for a most uneasy feeling … Miami 26, Ohio State 21. (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Here are the spreads for the above games: Boise State (-20) at Toledo; Oklahoma (-3) at Florida State; North Texas (+46) at Alabama; Stanford (-9½) at Arizona; Wisconsin (-16½) at Northern Illinois; Idaho at Texas A&M (-35½); Missouri State at Oregon (-47½); Michigan State (+5½) at Notre Dame; Oklahoma State (-13) at Tulsa; Ohio State at Miami-FL (-3).

Enjoy the games and we’ll see you next week.

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