The first big game of the year is finally at hand. Ohio State visits USC (8 EST, ABC) for a nationally televised showdown that will either vindicate the Buckeyes or give more fodder to Big Ten critics, the latter seeming to be the most rapidly increasing voter demographic in the country.
Chris Wells' status remains in doubt according to this report by Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. Even if he plays, the fact his status is this much up in the air would indicate he's not going to be anywhere close to full speed, unless of course this is all a ploy by Jim Tressel to keep the Trojan defensive staff guessing.
With or without Wells, winning this one is a lot to ask of any team. USC showed it had its game together right away with the opening day rout of Virginia on the road. The odds that any team could go into Los Angeles and beat them right now are very slim, which is what makes the unfairness of judging Ohio State exclusively on this game so ridiculous.
The national media, never a model of in-depth thought, has taken superficial analysis on the Buckeyes to a ludicrous extreme in using their past two BCS title game failures as an indictment of Tressel's program specifically and the conference overall. Suggesting OSU can't win outside its league completely forgets they beat Texas back-to-back years, including a 2006 throttling in Austin. Indicting the Big Ten for the inability of our league's second-place team to stay with the Trojans in the Rose Bowl the past two years invites the question of just how many teams could do that.
All we know for sure is that Ohio State hasn't been as good as the SEC champ in 2006-07 and the Big Ten runner-up is nowhere close to Southern Cal during that same time period. To try and read more into it then that constitutes an unfair attack ad in this election year.
I think USC is beatable and the one positive about the Wells situation is that it's lowered expectations so much. A noble effort in a close loss might get the Buckeyes enough respect back to enable them to still fight their way back to the national championship game. But however you slice it, I think the conventional wisdom prevails in the Coliseum and the Trojans get the win.
Kirk Ferentz will get his first real test of 2008 on Saturday afternoon as Iowa & Iowa State renew their rivalrly. This will be the first of two interesting non-conference games, as a road trip to Pitt follows. We'll see if Iowa is ready to start making a comeback. While Iowans get juiced up for this game, Pat Harty of The Iowa Press-Citizen says the game rarely lives up to its hype.