Is Ohio State Championship Material?



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

There are several big games on the schedule this weekend. The one that could have the most longterm impact on the National Championship picture is Miami-Ohio State.

Ohio State has been picked by many to reach the BCS Championship game (one assumes against the winner of the SEC, but you never know this far in advance). A strong showing here would put the Buckeyes in position to just that. If they beat Miami, then run the table in the Big's a virtual certainty because of the respect the Big Ten has been earning with solid recent results.

But, if Ohio State gets upset as an 8-point favorite, that throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing. And, it could hurt the prestige of Iowa or Wisconsin should THEY go on to win the Big Ten. They'll just have taken out an Ohio State team that was probably overrated to begin with.

The Buckeyes were a very interesting team last they tended to disappoint until a very strong showing in the Rose Bowl as an underdog against Oregon. Here's a quick review:

*Ohio State started the season by barely surviving Navy as a 22-point favorite. They won 31-27, but had to sweat the ending. Navy's a bowl team, but doesn't have the horses to match up physically with somebody like Ohio State. It was a poor showing, and a foreshadowing of troubles ahead.

*Ohio State followed that up with an 18-15 home loss to Southern Cal. At the time, it was seen as a meeting of national powers. But, Southern Cal would limp to a dismal season by their standards. It turned out to be a big strike against Ohio State. The offense couldn't move the ball on a defense that would later get obliterated by the likes of Oregon and Stanford.

*After a few creampuff wins, Ohio State was dominated statistically in a misleading victory over Wisconsin. Cheap points made it look like the Buckeyes were coasting. They were actually outgained 368-184, but scored three non-offensive TD's to create an illusion of productivity.

*That caught up with them in their next game, when they were stunned by double digit underdog Purdue.

*More creampuffs followed, then a legitimate 24-7 win at Penn State suggested the Buckeyes might be finding some form. They still couldn't throw the ball consistently well. But, the defense was solid, and the running game could control the point of attack. This wasn't Alabama or Florida playing. But, Ohio State looked like a Big Ten contender at least.

*The penultimate game of the season was an overtime win at home over Iowa as a 16-point favorite. Iowa had to go with a backup quarterback because of an injury to their starter. Ohio State only outgained the backup 322-300, and needed every one of his three interceptions to eke out the victory. A big win, but a poor showing in context.

*A 21-10 season finale victory at Michigan was helped by a defensive TD early in the game. Yardage was about even. The final score was 14-10 if you took out the lucky TD. Michigan wouldn't quality for a bowl. summary:

*Ohio State could dominate creampuffs
*Ohio State needed fluke points to beat bowl caliber teams (outside of the Penn State game)
*Ohio State just wasn't anything special in terms of the upper echelon of the sport.

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Then came the Rose Bowl...

Total Yardage: Ohio State 419, Oregon 260
Rushing Yardage: Ohio State 153, Oregon 179
Passing Stats: Ohio State 23-38-1-266, Oregon 9-20-1-81
Turnovers: Ohio State 1, Oregon 2
Halftime Score: Ohio State 16, Oregon 10
Vegas Line: Oregon by 4.5, total of 51
Comments: Whoa! What happened here?! Ohio State passed for more than 250 yards, and completely outclassed the favored Pac 10 champions. Remember that Oregon annihilated USC, while Ohio State lost to them at home. What a turnaround.

And, this big win for the Buckeyes highlighted a stellar run for the Big 10's elite in bowl play. Iowa completely controlled ACC champion Georgia Tech. Wisconsin owned the Miami team that will be on the field in Columbus today. Let's quickly review the numbers from that bowl so we'll have 'equal footing' for evaluating the last time Ohio State and Miami took the field vs. quality opponents.

Total Yardage: Miami 249, Wisconsin 430
Rushing Yardage: Miami 61, Wisconsin 170
Passing Stats: Miami 16-30-0-188, Wisconsin 19-26-1-260
Turnovers: Miami 1, Wisconsin 3
Halftime Score: Miami 7, Wisconsin 17
Vegas Line: Miami by 3.5, total of 55
Comments: The way the games fell on the calendar, this was basically a 'pre-play' of Ohio State/Oregon. Wisconsin dominated in the same way in terms of yardage and the flow of the game. Only turnover issues kept it from being a double digit victory.

So...we have Miami losing to Wisconsin by similar stats...but Ohio State was playing the Pac 10 Champion out on the West Coast...while Miami was hosting a Big Ten also-ran (a quality also-ran, but not the champ) in front of a friendly crowd (Orlando).

If the bowl games are an indicator of what to expect Saturday afternoon when Miami visits Ohio State in Columbus...then the Buckeyes are going to win by at least two touchdowns. They had better form in a big late season game, and have more returning starters:

RETURNING STARTERS (according to Athlon's preseason publication)
Ohio State: 8 on offense, 6 on defense
Miami: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

On the other hand...Ohio State's bowl game was an outlier in terms of big games through the season. The version of the Buckeyes that played Navy, USC, Purdue, and Iowa will be upset fodder for sure. The version that needed cheap points to cover against Wisconsin and Michigan may not win that category against a team of athletes just as likely to create cheap points as they are.

As handicappers, this is your challenge in this marquee matchup. Did the Rose Bowl represent Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State finally 'getting it' in terms of figuring out how to play at a championship level? Or, was that a one-game fluke where they caught an overconfident opponent flat as a pancake?

You answer that question, you have Saturday's pointspread winner. And, you probably have a good read on who will be playing for the BCS championship come January. (We know who Boise State is rooting for here!).

JIM HURLEY has been looking forward to this day for a very long time. When the college schedules came out over the summer, it was clear that Week One was going to be relatively quiet in terms of big games...but WEEK TWO WAS GOING TO BE HUGE!

Among the showcase games getting extra handicapping attention this week:
*Miami at Ohio State
*Penn State at Alabama (more on this prime time showdown Saturday)
*Florida State at Oklahoma
*Michigan at Notre Dame
*Georgia at South Carolina
*South Florida at Florida
*Oregon at Tennessee

Say it with us, 'Sorry honey, I'll be watching college football for 12 hours straight on Saturday because there's great games all day long!'

NETWORK has a huge release planned on Saturday, along with BONUS plays in our favorite TV toss-ups. The fun actually starts TONIGHT though, with a bankroll building doubleheader on ESPN

*West Virginia at Marshall
*UTEP at Houston

Make some money tonight, then let your winnings ride all weekend long with the Saturday blockbusters and the first full Sunday of NFL action as well. WHAT A WEEKEND!

Selections can be purchased online a few hours before kickoff on game days. You can also sign up for BLUE RIBBON or CLOSED CIRCUIT service with your credit card as well by making a few clicks. If you have any questions about what's available, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Labor Day weekend was fun....but THE WINNING IS JUST BEGINNING!

See you tomorrow for an expanded preview of Penn State/Alabama. Sunday's report will preview the Dallas/Washington game set for prime time on NBC. Monday we'll preview ESPN's kickoff doubleheader (Baltimore/NY Jets and San Diego/Kansas City).

Win some money tonight with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK...then get some sleep folks. It's going to be a long, wonderful weekend!

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