Reasons you can still be cautiously optimistic

So it’s our job to make you Bucks fans feel more optimistic, eh? Do you want some reasons to feel less doomed going into this weekend? Let’s give it a shot.

If you haven’t heard, OSU doesn’t have a chance this Saturday. The Buckeyes are slow, plodding, underacheivers who are wasting everyone’s time with this fantasy of being among the nation’s elite. The one shot they had – a power game controlled by the nation’s best running back – has gone from "likely to happen" to "snowball’s chance" status over the past 24 hours with the doubtful status of Beanie Wells.

And the Trojans? Well, as the 52-7 buttwhoopin’ they laid on Virginia will tell you, they should just be given a pass through the rest of their season and sent straight to the NC game. No sense in delaying the inevitable, eh? Besides, it would be better for the self-esteem of everyone else in the Pac 10. Mark May could then die a sated man.

Or… is there reason for OSU to be optimistic?

Before you Buckeye fans open your veins at the probable loss of Wells, let’s try to be logical (read: non-ESPNish) about this. While it’s not perfect, the best indicator of future performance is past trends. Sure, there are exceptions, but if all we have is history, it’ll have to do. So, indulge me.

Big Road Game Trends

Let’s start by considering some trends surrounding this 2008 class of OSU starters. This Saturday’s game is just another in a long line of "huge regular season road games at night with national title implications" for these veterans. Consider the results of the past five:

Team Ranked? Yardage gained/allowed Score Margin
Texas * 348/326 24-7 17
Iowa * 400/336 38-17 21
Minn   459/277 30-7 23
Purdue * 381/272 23-7 16
Penn St * 453/263 37-17 20
Average * 408/295 30.4-11.0 19.4

It’s worth noting that the current group of offensive starters were not instrumental in the first two games in the list – they were there, but primarily led by Smith/Ginn/Gonzalez, et. al. However, the current group of defensive starters have been instrumental in all five matchups.

Four of the teams were ranked. Both Texas and Penn State had nationally-feared defenses. Trend-wise, note the yards allowed – the gradual improvement in the Buckeye defense is apparent. The overall view is obvious: OSU was never challenged in any of these games – even though the power running game was practically nonexistent (2006) or less than spectacular (Beanie’s 2007 injuries) in all of them.

Does this predict a victory for OSU this weekend? Of course not. However, it does clearly indicate that, quite simply, these are the types of games that this group of starters have historically played their best in. Of course the question still remains: "is OSU’s best better than USC’s best?" Only the game will tell. But for those hoping for OSU to lay an egg this weekend, or for USC to win in a blowout, the trends indicate that this is extremely unlikely.

The only thing we don’t have any history on is how the team will respond in a big game to a leader and captain going out to injury. Will the Buckeyes resign themselves to defeat due to disappointment over losing Chris Wells? Or will they rally and work harder? I could give you my honest opinion about that question here – but since this post is entitled "reasons to still be optimistic," I won’t, and we’ll move on.

"B-b-but Florida and LSU bowl game losses!!eleventy1!" Nonsense. This isn’t a bowl game. It isn’t a national championship game, no matter how hard the networks try to convince you. It’s in their interests to hype this game any way they can. This is just another big regular season game for both teams.

At any rate, there is a huge difference in playing in a national championship game against an opponent that you’ve known about for three weeks, having 50 days off beforehand; and a regular season matchup against an opponent that you’ve been preparing for all year.

USC’s Offense

What about this current class of USC starters?

This could be a post in itself – but let’s admit something obvious, here: this group of USC offensive players have never played against even a decent defense. The best defense that the Trojan starters have recently seen is UCLA’s – ranked 29th in total defense last year, and a team that didn’t even finish above .500. If you want to find a tougher defensive opponent than that, you’ve got to go back to the first game of the 2006 season, when the Trojans played Arkansas (ranked 26th in total defense).

Put another way, USC’s offense has not been challenged by a good defense for many years, and this group of starters has yet to be challenged by anything above mediocrity. OSU is coming into Los Angeles with the exact same players that led the league in defense for the past two years. Yes, their weakness for spread offenses and mobile QBs have been exposed and reviewed ad nauseam, but the fact remains that USC does not run an offense like Florida or LSU or even Illinois. The pro-set, sometimes-spread Carroll scheme is very similar to other Big 10 offenses, including the Buckeyes’ own scheme itself. In short, this is the type of offense that OSU has been specifically built to defend against, and they have a perfect record in doing so (with extreme prejudice, no less).

Experience

Finally, let’s compare and contrast experience. This group of Buckeye starters has more experience against the nation’s elite than any other team in recent memory – and not just OSU teams, either. They just might be the most experienced of any other team, period.

This specific group of OSU players has battled national champions and conference champions. They’ve won three conference titles in a row, and have endured the hype, preparation, experience, and ultimately the motivating humiliation for two consecutive national title games.

They’ve played against several of the nation’s top defenses and top offenses over the past couple of years.

They’ve played both with and against multiple Heisman, Thorpe, Doak, Maxwell, and Butkus winners.

They’ve played in big games of every type: home, away, bowl, day, and night. They’ve endured injuries to key, supposedly irreplaceable starters, only to replace them so that folks hardly noticed.

They’ve fought against teams headed by the nation’s elite list of coaches: Urban Meyer, Joe Paterno, Mack Brown, Lloyd Carr and Les Miles.

And if that resume wasn’t impressive enough, as of this Saturday, OSU will add Pete Carroll, Pac10 champs USC, another road night game, and numerous postseason award finalists from the Trojans squad to that list of experience.

Is there another college football team with a class of starters with such a deep resume? Certainly not. And definitely not USC.

In other words…

To sum up, this 2008 OSU squad has a historical trend of playing their best football in these types of situations. They’re infinitely more experienced than USC. They’ve been there, done that. It’s not likely that they’ll be intimidated or surprised by anything USC tries. And no offensive player on the current USC roster has the benefit of ever playing against even a moderately tough defense.

Again, does any of this make a victory more or less likely? Certainly not. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the media’s propaganda view of OSU’s overall weakness is misguided, at least. The Buckeye defense alone should make this a better game that what most people think. And if USC’s overconfident "we grill steaks in the backfield" hubris keeps them from realizing the uncharted territory they’re going to find themselves in this weekend, they could find themselves surprised and reactionary against a motivated, deep, talented Buckeye team with way more to prove.

Or so Buckeye fans cautiously hope.

Comments

  1. Nice post. Here’s the thing I’m curious about, though. Everyone is citing USC’s beatdown of Virginia as evidence that they are far superior, and it seems that our game against Ohio is a major reason for doubting us. What would the national attitudes be if we had a bye week after beating up on YSU? Or if we had similarly put away OU? Does that bring us any amount of respect?

  2. David – no. Because OSU plays in the Big 10. Respect is all about (1) performance and (2) the perception and spin of performance.

    You brought up Virginia: had OSU had the exact same game against Virgina, the Mark Mays of the world would be saying, “…yeah, but Va is a bottom feeder in the nation’s weakest conference, and their defense is entirely new, young, and untested.” But USC plays them and he has to take a personal break to wipe the drool off his mouth, then talks NONSTOP about the awesome victory for two straight weeks.

    If this team plays admirably against a recognized national power – then the respect will come (the talking heads won’t have any choice, and the minions that allow the talking heads to think for them will go along like sheep).

    Until then, OSU and the rest of the Big 10 will be doubted. It’s what ESPN has written, it’s what shall be done. It stinks, I know.

  3. Sportsmonkey – you are right on when it comes to the VA game. The phrase “the perception and spin of performance” is probably the best description of how things work today in terms of evaluating games.

    A single game can end up meaning totally different things depending on what description it is given by the talking heads. However, these varying descriptions really should be impossible if you think about it; the great thing about sports is that there is a score, one team wins the game while the other lost it, and every important game attribute is numerically quantifiable. But the spin is everything.

    Take the Texas win a few years ago. That game ended up not buying any mileage for the Bucks once Texas lost to Kansas St. The Spin was that this was not a good Texas team. But, that means it was still generally a damn good team we beat on the road. Had USC gone and beaten that same team, the win would have continued to have been pumped all year long and trotted out as a one of the great wins for SC that year. In contrast, after only a few weeks, that win for the Bucks was downgraded to an “ok” win on an overall weak schedule.

    While I do think the Big 10 as a whole is not very good anymore COMPARED TO ITSELF of a decade ago, or to the present day SEC … it is not even close to being as bad as the ACC or Big East. Yet, only the Big10 gets hammeree the way the other conferences do.

  4. woops, last line was supposed to say yet, only the Big 10 hammered and it doesn’t get the pass the other conferences do … thinking faster than my fingers

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