How Can Buckeyes Beat Texas?

Please don’t say the BCS got it right. It didn’t.

During a season in which there are only two undefeated teams remaining and neither get a chance to play for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

During a season in which there are a half-dozen one-loss teams, each of which is worthy of playing for the national championship, it was impossible to “get it right.”

What makes Oklahoma and Florida so special? Are they really the best teams in college football this year? Obviously, the pollsters think so – but the emphasis is on the “think so.” No one knows for sure.

What disqualifies Texas? The last-second loss to Texas Tech? Maybe you want to discount what the Red Raiders have accomplished this season, and maybe that is a salient argument in light of their 44-point loss to Oklahoma. I just have a tough time believing the Sooners belong in the national championship game just because they ran up the score on their last half-dozen opponents.

Didn’t Texas beat Oklahoma? By 10 points? On a neutral field? And because freshman safety Blake Gideon couldn’t hold onto a fourth-quarter interception and on the next play sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown was unable to prevent the best receiver in college football from catching the winning pass, the rest of the Longhorns’ marvelous season is relegated to every other also-ran team? Tell me how that’s fair and how the BCS got everything “right.”

Now that my mini-rant is over, I have to admit I wasn’t that thrilled when the bowl invitations were announced. Ohio State desperately needs a postseason victory this year – for a bit of national redemption as much as anything else – and going to play a team that could/should be considered one of this season’s best is a tough assignment. Likewise, there aren’t exactly sweet memories for the Buckeyes from the last trip to the Phoenix area.

I didn’t like the matchup any better when I started looking a little more in-depth at the Longhorns.

For starters, Texas is the No. 3 ranked team in the nation and Ohio State is 0-2 against top-five competition this season. The Longhorns also have the No. 2 defense in the country against the rush. The Buckeyes’ offensive strength is their running game but in their two losses this season, they averaged only 66.0 yards per game and 2.0 yards on 132 rushing plays. UT also has a balanced offense that averages 43.9 points per game. OSU got its offense in gear toward the end of the season but only twice scored more points in a single game than the Longhorns averaged all year.

At first blush, it seems to be the recipe for more postseason heartache in your particular persuasion happens to lean toward scarlet and gray.

If you dig a little deeper, however, there are some chinks in the Texas armor. Yes, the Longhorns held eight of their 12 opponents to less than 50 yards rushing. That included Oklahoma, which gained only 48 yards. Two teams, however, figured out a way to run the ball against UT. Baylor managed 201 yards in a 45-21 loss in early November, and Oklahoma State piled up 217 yards in a narrow 28-24 defeat.

In that game, Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter rolled for 161 yards, a season-high total for a Texas opponent. As a means of comparison, Hunter finished the 2008 regular season ranked sixth in the country with an average of 126.5 yards per game. Ohio State tailback Beanie Wells finished one tick behind Hunter in the No. 7 position thanks to his 121.2-yard average.

There is no question that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had a tremendous season, one that I think was Heisman Trophy worthy. (We’ll get to that later.) In terms of raw numbers, McCoy completed a ridiculous 77.6 percent of his 375 pass attempts for 3,445 yards and 32 touchdowns.

One facet of McCoy’s game that does not get enough attention is his ability to run – he rushed for 576 yards and 10 TDs this season. But opposing defenses that played sound fundamental football had success keeping the Texas QB corralled. The Longhorns surrendered 22 sacks this season. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes tallied 13 of their 24 sacks in the final five games. Maybe it’s no coincidence that when the sack total started to increase, they began to pull away from their opponents. Point differential in the first seven games: plus-70 for Ohio State. Point differential in the final five: plus-111.

One more possible way for the Buckeyes to attack Texas would be through the air. For all of their obvious strengths, the Longhorns rank a dismal 109th of 119 Division I-A schools in pass defense. Unfortunately, OSU ranks 104th in pass offense.

Naturally, the Orangebloods will argue their numbers are skewed because of playing in the pass-happy Big 12. They did face four quarterbacks who rank among the country’s top nine in passing efficiency.

What is Ohio State’s excuse? Well, in reality, the Buckeyes have none. Head coach Jim Tressel has been reluctant to allow freshman QB Terrelle Pryor to use the pass as much of a weapon, fearing too many passes would lead to too many mistakes. Guess what? Playing the likes of Texas, Tressel now has little choice but to open the entire playbook to his gifted young quarterback.

I have heard the knocks against Pryor’s arm and they come from people who have not seen him play. He can make all the throws – short, long and in between. My guess is that he will have to throw more than 15 times – his average number of attempts as a starter – if the Buckeyes have any hopes of beating the Longhorns.

There is one other possible advantage for Ohio State but it is such an intangible facet, no one will know whether it came into play until the game is over. It is the mind-set with which Texas will approach the game. Will the Longhorns seek to prove something to the country at large for their national title game slight? Or will their minds be in Miami and on Oklahoma and Florida rather than in Phoenix and on the Buckeyes? I have covered countless teams that have said all the right things leading up to the game and then played as though their minds were clearly elsewhere. Will that happen to the Longhorns? We’ll find out in exactly 25 days.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** I waited until the last minute before electronically filing my Heisman Trophy ballot yesterday. I finally settled on McCoy at the top because he has achieved a truly remarkable season on a team that features no outstanding supporting cast. I put McCoy ahead of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford for three reasons: I felt Bradford had the better supporting players, McCoy beat Bradford in the head-to-head matchup, and some of Bradford’s stats were inflated as the Sooners and head coach Bob Stoops went for the inane NCAA record of six straight 60-point games. I stayed with my conviction for third place, filling out the ballot with Wells. Where would the Buckeyes have been without him? Not 10-2 and going to the Fiesta Bowl, that’s for sure, and that’s what got my third-place vote.

** McCoy is the leader in a poll of Heisman voters taken by the Rocky Mountain News. McCoy edged Bradford by a single point with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow finishing eight points back in third. The newspaper has correctly predicted the winner 18 of the past 21 years.

** Over at StiffArmTrophy.com, which has accurately predicted every winner since 2002 by gleaning actual votes from actual Heisman voters, Bradford enjoys a fairly healthy lead with McCoy and Tebow neck and neck for second. StiffArmTrophy.com is so accurate because they count actual votes.

** Congratulations to Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. The guy turned around a moribund program, engineered an upset of previously undefeated Ball State and has his school going to the International Bowl. What makes the postseason invitation even sweeter is that the school’s only previous bowl chance was aborted 50 years ago when it turned down a Tangerine Bowl berth because its African-American players would not be allowed to participate.

** Did you see the end of the Buffalo-Ball State contest? In a me-first world, Gill taught us all a little lesson in how to win with humility. When asked he could take the Bills from perennial doormats to MAC champions, tears came to Gill’s eyes when he answered, “It wasn’t me. They did it. The players did it. They deserve the credit.”

** Next time you get all bent out of shape because your favorite team doesn’t make the preseason top 25, consider what came of these teams that were ranked before the year began. Auburn, Clemson and Tennessee each fired their head coaches; Michigan had the worst season in its history; LSU lost more regular-season games than any defending national champion in six decades; Arizona State and Illinois each finished with losing records.

** When Oklahoma finished at the top of the Bowl Championship Series standings, it extended the Sooners’ all-time lead in the rankings. OU has made 18 appearances atop the BCS rankings, three more than Ohio State and USC. Florida State and Miami (Fla.) round out the top five with seven No. 1 appearances each.

** Did you know that the Big Ten was the only major Division I-A conference this year with co-champions? It’s true. Ohio State and Penn State tied for the Big Ten crown while every other conference had a sole champion. Virginia Tech won the ACC, Cincinnati took the Big East, Oklahoma won the Big 12, East Carolina took home the Conference USA title, Buffalo won the MAC, Utah was the Mountain West winner, USC took the Pac-10, Florida won the SEC, Troy took home the Sun Belt trophy and Boise State won the WAC.

** Of course, many of the aforementioned conferences have championship games and that makes it impossible to have co-champions. Still, Big Ten is pretty good about determining its champion without benefit of a title game. Over the past 25 seasons, including 2008, the conference has produced 15 outright champions – Ohio State (1984), Iowa (1985), Michigan State (1987), Michigan (1988-89), Michigan (1991-92), Penn State (1994), Northwestern (1995), Michigan (1997), Wisconsin (1999), Illinois (2001), Michigan (2003) and Ohio State (2006-07).

** USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Michigan quarterback Chuck Ortmann and Rose Bowl game manager Virgil Lubberden are this year’s class of inductees into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Fans of Ohio State football history may remember Ortmann as the quarterback on Michigan’s 1950 team that beat the Buckeyes, 9-3, in the famous Snow Bowl. In that game, Ortmann punted a Big Ten record 24 times, a single-game mark that still stands.

** While the Big 12 and SEC continue to get most of the love from the national media, how about a round of applause for the ACC? Ten of the conference’s 12 teams earned bowl invitations this season, including all six members of the Atlantic division.

** USC and Penn State will meet for the third time in the Rose Bowl. The first was in 1923 when the Trojans took a 14-3 victory. How long ago was that? So long that Joe Paterno wasn’t even born yet.

** Turnovers came in bunches last weekend. Undefeated Ball State committed five and lost to Buffalo in the MAC championship. High-scoring Tulsa grounded itself with seven turnovers in a C-USA title game loss to East Carolina. And three-time defending Division I-AA champion Appalachian State also committed seven turnovers and lost a 33-13 quarterfinal decision to Richmond.

** We’ve talked about turnovers. How about turnarounds? Southern Miss started this season 2-6, which included a five-game losing streak, the school’s longest in 32 years. The Golden Eagles closed with four straight wins and will play Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.

** Oregon State was 0-2 and giving up an average of 40.5 points per game. Then the Beavers upset USC and came within a whisker of making their first Rose Bowl in 44 years. They got a consolation prize of playing Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.

** And then there was Rutgers, left for dead at 1-5 following a 13-10 loss Oct. 11 to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights rebounded with six straight victories and will face North Carolina State on Dec. 29 in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

** The Division II and III playoffs have familiar feels to them. Northwest Missouri State made the D-II championship game for the fourth straight season with last week’s 41-7 semifinal win over North Alabama. In D-III, defending champion Wisconsin-Whitewater is in the semifinals as is Mount Union, which reached the final four for the 14th consecutive season.

** Nothing has changed in the NAIA, either. Carroll College (Mont.) and the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) will square off for the championship for the second year in a row. Last year, the Fighting Saints of Carroll knocked off the defending champion Cougars by a 17-9 score in the title game.

** Today marks the 37th anniversary of the first and only East-West Black All-Star Game. The contest, which was held Dec. 11, 1971, in Houston, featured all-star teams comprised of African-American players. The East took a 19-10 victory over the West before only 5,156 fans.

** Also occurring during this week in college football history: On Dec. 8, 1914, representatives from Oklahoma and Rice attended a meeting in Houston and joined as charter members of what became the Southwest Athletic Conference; on Dec. 12, 1981, Eastern Michigan celebrated its first (and still only) postseason appearance with a 30-27 win over San Jose State in the California Bowl; and on Dec. 14, 1995, overtime was used for the first time ever in a Division I-A game. Toledo took a 40-37 win in OT over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.

** This week also featured the first awards ceremony to honor the outstanding individual player in college football. On Dec. 9, 1935, Jay Berwanger of Chicago was named the first recipient of the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. The award would be renamed the following year in honor of legendary coach and innovator John Heisman. The Heisman Memorial Trophy was awarded to the top college player by the Downtown Athletic Club until 2001 when it declared bankruptcy. The trophy is now awarded annually by the Yale Club of New York City.

FEARLESS FORECAST

The forecast will take a couple of weeks off until bowl season heats up and it isn’t a minute too soon. Thanks to a boatload of turnovers by Ball State and Tulsa, the weekend started off poorly and didn’t get any better. Straight up, we were only 5-3 to move the season total to 98-37.

Against the spread, it was just one of those weeks with a season-worst 1-6 finish. Thanks to Oklahoma for running up the score and preventing a total wipeout. The ATS ledger for the season is now 70-60-1.

Remember: The bowl season officially begins in just nine days with four games on the docket.

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2 Comments

  1. Up front, I’m a big Tebow fan and am supporting him for the Heisman. McCoy number 1, Bradford number 2? I disagree with, but respect, those picks. Either of those guys is worthy. Beanie Wells at number 3? Really? Talk about home state favoritism being taken a bit far. Your heisman vote should be revoked for next year!

  2. Check out Wells’ numbers. Then check out how Ohio State did when he was out of the lineup. Ohio State gets nowhere near the BCS without Wells … just like your beloved Gators get nowhere near the title game without your boy Tebow. Look at it that way and maybe Wells at No. 3 is not such a “homer” pick after all.


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