Maybe Ohio State fans aren’t quite as paranoid as I thought. That persecution complex they’re feeling may not be a figment of their imaginations after all.
After two straight trips to the BCS National Championship Game, the prevailing notion in the Buckeye Nation is that the Buckeyes must win all of their games in 2008 to achieve a title game three-peat. Unfortunately, that may very well be true.
I don’t want to use the “C” word here – that would be “C” for conspiracy – but I remain haunted by the way LSU jumped in the national polls last season to get its chance in the championship game. In the past, I have believed it was not only possible for OSU to lose its early-season game to Southern Cal and still make the title game, I figured it was entirely probable. My thinking goes along these lines: The Buckeyes will be around the top three when they travel to USC. While a loss would send them dropping like a stone in the polls, they have nine subsequent games and nearly three full months to rise again.
If the team is as good as we believe it to be, it shouldn’t have any trouble winning those last nine contests. At the same time, other teams ranked ahead of them are going to be knocking one another off – as they always do. It seems not too far-fetched to believe a one-loss Ohio State team could move back into the No. 1 or 2 spot in the BCS rankings by the time the season ends.
Of course, that won’t happen if there are at least two undefeated teams. But that happens so rarely it seems not even worth discussing.
However, there seems to be such a disdain for the Buckeyes on a national scale that one could make the case even now that unless OSU goes through the 2008 season undefeated, it will not get a chance to play in the national championship game.
You can begin reading the tea leaves throughout the country. College football writers and broadcasters – the ones who matter because they have the influence necessary to alter the human factor in the BCS rankings – have already weighed in. An Ohio State team with a loss to USC on its résumé will be skipped over in the rankings for a one-loss team from the SEC, Pac-10 or Big 12.
Is that fair? Of course not, but it doesn’t matter. Perception is ninth-tenths of the law that governs the polls in college football and the perception of Ohio State is that it plays in an inferior conference and that the Buckeyes have had their chance these past two years. It will be someone else’s turn in January 2009.
Naturally, the Scarlet and Gray can put all of the speculation to rest by going to Los Angeles on Sept. 13 and beating the Trojans. For all of the preseason love it is getting, USC is in a bit of a rebuilding mode. Still, they are 39-3 at home under head coach Pete Carroll and Ohio State has lost to them on each of its last three trips to the Coliseum – and those games haven’t even been close (32-3 in 1963, 17-0 in 1959 and the 42-3 woodshed trip in 1989).
Put those ingredients in the pot, stir them with the Buckeyes’ performances in the last two national title games, and no one on the national scene believes OSU has even the slightest chance to win that game. This from SportingNews.com football writer Spencer Hall: “Unless Ohio State shows up with something newish defensively – or at least varies what it does in the slightest – Carroll and (assistant head coach) Steve Sarkisian will put Ohio State in the Blend-Tec and have a delicious and nutritious smoothie by the middle of the third quarter, putting the Buckeyes on the fast track to the Rose Bowl at best.”
Seems like a challenge has been made. We’ll see how Jim Tressel, his staff and his players respond in exactly 100 days.
NOT-SO-MIGHTY NONCONFERENCE FOES
Maybe the national pundits have a point about the Big Ten, at least where nonconference schedules are concerned. This coming season, the teams are playing nonleague opponents that posted a combined record of 251-290 last season, a winning percentage of .464.
Only Ohio State and Illinois play nonconference slates against teams that combined for winning records a year ago. The Buckeyes play Youngstown State, Ohio, USC and Troy, which combined for a 32-16 record (.667) while the Fighting Illini take on Missouri, Eastern Illinois, Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Michigan, which came in at a combined 28-22 (.560).
Want to know who has the softest nonleague schedule? That would Iowa, which plays Maine, Florida International, Iowa State and Pittsburgh. That fearsome foursome finished 13-34 last year, a winning percentage of .271.
The marquee matchup of the nonconference season will obviously be the Ohio State-USC game on Sept. 13, but there will be some other pretty good contests as well beginning with Illinois traveling to St. Louis on Aug. 30 to take on Missouri, a team that finished 11-2 last season.
Other intriguing Aug. 30 openers include Michigan State kicking things off on the road at Cal and the Rich Rodriguez era beginning in Ann Arbor with Utah coming to town fresh off a 9-4 season that included wins in eight of its last nine games.
The following week, Oregon State visits Penn State. The Beavers were 9-4 last season, including seven victories in their last eight games topped off with a 21-14 win over Maryland in the Emerald Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes won’t be the only Big Ten team in California on Sept. 13. Wisconsin travels to Fresno State that same day to play the Bulldogs, who finished 9-4 last season including a 40-28 drubbing of Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Also on Sept. 13, Purdue hosts Oregon. The Ducks finished 9-4 last season, including a 39-7 whipping of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But those Ducks are not the same Ducks that will invade West Lafayette with multitalented QB Dennis Dixon.
OTHER SCHEDULING QUIRKS
Only two Big Ten teams – Michigan and Michigan State – do not have Division I-AA teams on their 2008 schedules. Obviously the Wolverines learned their lesson last year with Appalachian State.
Perhaps several other schools also learned the perils of taking on good teams from the lower division. Remember that North Dakota State also beat Minnesota.
This season, four Big Ten schools are hosting Division I-AA teams that finished with losing records in 2007. Penn State will play Coastal Carolina (5-6), Iowa faces Maine (4-7), Indiana takes on Murray State (2-9) and Purdue hosts Northern Colorado (1-11).
Give credit to Northwestern for playing Southern Illinois, which went 12-2 last season. Of course, the Wildcats’ three nonconference opponents for I-A are Syracuse, Duke and Ohio, which combined to go 9-27 last year.
He is going to be able to afford to buy himself a nice gift, but happy birthday greetings anyway to Vernon Gholston. Big Vern was born June 5, 1986, in Detroit, and became a football star as Cass Technical High School only after a football coach mistook him in the hallway for someone’s father. Gholston was in the eighth grade at the time. He went on to a stellar career with Ohio State, setting the single-season sack record last year, and then the New York Jets made him the No. 6 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft.
Others luminaries celebrating today include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, novelist Ken Follett, supposed financial whiz Suze Orman, sleep-inducing saxophonist Kenny G, singer-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg, Cincinnati Reds reliever Bill Bray and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz (the new Mr. Ashlee Simpson in case you care).
Ironically, June 5 birthdays are also shared by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who marked the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City by giving the black power salute on the medal stand following their performances in the 200-meter dash. Smith was born June 5, 1944, and Carlos was born June 5, 1945.
SI COVER TRIVIA ANSWER
Here is the answer to the question I asked in yesterday’s blog: Howard “Hopalong” Cassady became the first Ohio State football player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he appeared on the issue dated Oct. 24, 1955.
Cassady was a high school legend at Columbus Central High School before becoming a star halfback – on both offense and defense – for the Buckeyes. He became the school’s third Heisman Trophy winner in 1955 when ran for 958 yards rushing, a new single-season mark for the Buckeyes that would stand for 13 years.
After that season, he also earned his second straight All-America honor, was voted the Ohio State MVP by his teammates for the second year in a row and captured the conference most valuable player award.
In late November when the votes were tabulated for the Heisman, it wasn’t even close. Cassady became the first player ever to amass 2,000 points in the Heisman scoring system and bested runner-up Jim Swink of Texas Christian by a whopping 1,477 points, the largest margin of victory to that time. The following month, the Associated Press named Cassady “Athlete of the Year for 1955,” and he bested such other notables as heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano and Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham.
Cassady established new career marks for Ohio State with 2,466 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns while playing sterling defense. It was said that in his four years in the Buckeye secondary, Cassady never had a pass completed behind him.
And his stardom wasn’t only limited to the football field. He was also a three-year letterman for the Ohio State baseball team – he led the team in home runs in 1955 and in stolen bases in 1956 – and earned a Big Ten baseball championship in 1954 to go along with his national title in football.
The Detroit Lions made Cassady their first-round selection in the 1956 NFL draft and he was a starter for the Lions for six seasons. He was later traded to Cleveland for the 1962 season and also played for Philadelphia that year, then returned to Detroit for the 1963 season. He retired after eight NFL seasons and finished with 1,229 yards and six touchdowns rushing and 111 receptions for 1,601 yards and 18 TDs. He also returned 43 punts for a 7.9-yard career average and ran back 77 kickoffs, averaging 20.7 yards per return.
Following his retirement for football, Cassady translated his gridiron success into business success. He formed his own company, which manufactured concrete pipe, and sold it in 1968 when he moved into selling steel with Hopalong Cassady Associates. Howard later worked for American Shipbuilding in Tampa, Fla., where he struck up a friendship with the company’s owner George Steinbrenner. Cassady later became a scout and coach for the New York Yankees and spent several seasons as first base coach for the Columbus Clippers, which was then the Yankees’ Triple-A farm club.
** The U.S. Open evidently doesn’t care about spreading around its star power. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott – the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 ranked players in the world – will be playing together in the same threesome for the opening two rounds of the Open, which begins next week at Torrey Pines. In fact, the tournament has grouped the world’s top 12 players in just four groups. When asked if he thought that NBC would be opposed to so many stars in so few threesomes, the USGA’s Mike Davis replied, “The heck with what TV wants.”
** I don’t like all of these reported hoof problems, but if Big Brown is healthy, he’ll win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and capture the first Triple Crown in thoroughbred horse racing since 1978.
** What happened to the Mid-American Conference last season? Only three of its 11 teams finished above .500 and no team had fewer than five losses. Could that be why 10 of the 11 Big Ten teams have MAC teams on their 2008 schedules? (Indiana and Minnesota have two each.)
** Finally, here’s something my Bassmaster brother once told me: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Tech him how to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.”