Game Preview (3) USC at (8) Ohio State

Steve O Speak

By contributing Fanspeak writer Geoff Nelowet

Ohio State has not had its way with top-tier nationally prominent opponents. Take last season’s match up against Southern Cal in which the Buckeyes lost 35-3, or consider OSU’s last national title bids – two embarrassing losses: a 41-14 thumping by Florida and a 38-24 loss to LSU. The Buckeyes have been teetering on elite, top-five status as a program, but they haven’t won the big validation games. In fact, they haven’t won a bowl game, albeit BCS bowl game, in three years. For such an esteemed football program, OSU has a lot to prove, and this all comes to focus this weekend at home against USC.

The Trojans, as no surprise, are stocked with talent. Starting quarterback, Matt Barkley, is a freshman, but he’s also a sure-fire NFL prospect that ESPN’s Mel Kiper has already dubbed a number one overall draft pick in the next two to three years. With that being said, expect Barkley to play at a high level, and expect him to be a very consistent freshman quarterback. Barkley won’t be the only offensive factor in the game – Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford are two very talented backs, and they can run on any defense. Ohio State boasts an experienced and talented front four, but the USC offense can find success playing any defense in the country. Remember, USC blew out the Buckeyes last season, and this USC squad brings back nine offensive starters from a year ago.

Expect this to be a closer game, though, as OSU will be at home, and they are still a talented football team. They struggled last week against Navy, but it was week one, and Navy can be a difficult match up. The key element, and most likely the deciding factor of this game, though, will be the play of quarterback Terelle Pryor. Pryor is a huge talent, and he can kill a team with his feet and his arm, but the major question is this: can Pryor play mistake-free football, but still make the big, electrifying plays that win games? Pryor has to play without flaw to beat a team as talented and focused as USC, and this point the answer is no. Pryor is on the right track, and he could be a Vince Young-esque Heisman trophy candidate in the near future, but he’s not ready to play at that level. Pryor will be the most talented player on the field on Saturday, but expect an interception or a fumble or maybe a few of both. Pryor hasn’t shown that he has truly honed his skills yet, and it may only be a matter of time, but that time has yet to come.

In short, the Buckeyes won’t be able to keep pace with Trojans. USC operates at a different pace than everyone else, and they have more talent than their opponent week in and week out. They will be able to find the holes in the OSU defense, and they will be able to get the big stops. USC will be a major national title contender after this game, and Ohio State won’t. The bigger topic at the end of the day, though, will be the state of the OSU football program. Are they a top-five program or a top-fifteen program? Let the  final score tell you: USC 27- OSU 17.

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