Top 10 USC-Ohio State subplots

September, 8, 2008
09/08/08
2:13
PM ET

After two weeks of decent matchups, we finally get a great slate of games. The headliner is the Ohio State-USC showdown, which will dominate the talk of the sport for the next week. Since there are so many compelling subplots to that game, I figured this week's Top 10 list would serve as a good jumping-off point:

1. Beanie Wells' right foot: The Buckeyes' hammer might just be the best running back in college football. No one is more of a force coming out of the I-formation going downhill. OSU is a different team with him. Keep in mind, Wells gashed LSU and its vaunted D-line for 146 yards and a 7.3 yard-per-carry average in the BCS title game. However, just how healthy will he be for this game? It's not as if these Trojans haven't faced some great backs in their time. I asked Brian Cushing who was the toughest back they'd faced and he ticked off an amazing list. Cushing went from Darren McFadden to Marshawn Lynch to Rashard Mendenhall to Felix Jones, and this was after I brought up Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. So who was the best big back he faced? "Probably LenDale [White]."

2. Linebacker U: Think the Wells versus Rey Maualuga matchup is juicy, how about a statement game for the two top linebacking crews in the country? Both squads are stacked. OSU's James Laurinaitis has won every award a college linebacker can win, although both Maualuga and Cushing are in the same class. As is Buckeye Marcus Freeman.

Interesting aside: Last week I asked Cushing about how close he came to considering going to OSU. The New Jersey product said he was intrigued given the Buckeyes' great legacy of linebackers, but at the time he was scared off by concerns that Ohio State might be in trouble with the NCAA because at that time QB Troy Smith was in the news for his suspension for a bowl game. "I was afraid they might be going on probation," said Cushing, who ultimately chose USC over BC and Miami.

3. Buckeyes Redemption: Ohio State's two losses in the past two BCS title games have been well documented, but a win against top-ranked USC would be huge not only for the Buckeyes but also the Big Ten. OSU's win at Texas in 2006 is actually the league's only win over a top-10 opponent from a BCS league in the past five years.

4. Sanchez 4 Heisman? It's still way early, but after a terrific start, USC QB Mark Sanchez could be positioned for a Heisman run. The Buckeyes' D is very formidable and with all of the attention on this game, someone on offense is going to get a lot of shine. Given how many weapons USC rotates into its offense, Sanchez figures to be the only constant.

5. The Terrelle Pryor Coming-Out Party? The touted OSU freshman quarterback seemingly could give the Buckeyes' ground game a jolt, but was the coaching staff hiding him or shielding him last week when he got only three meaningful snaps against Ohio? Expect Pryor to get some action, especially considering how much the Trojans have struggled with mobile quarterbacks in the past -- Va. Tech's Bryan Randall, Texas' Vince Young and Oregon's Dennis Dixon immediately come to mind, although USC did bottle up Illinois' Juice Williams last season.

"When you play a guy like that, you just have to play within the defense," says Maualuga. "You have to be patient and stand your ground."

6. Ray Small's big words: You don't expect to get much trash talk from a Jim Tressel team, but Ohio State's dangerous wideout certainly got folks' attention out here in L.A. when he discussed a "class" difference between OSU and USC. "Here at Ohio State, they teach you to be a better man," Small said. "There, it's just all about football."

When apprised of Small's comments, USC's Clay Matthews seemed to indicate that those words will be echoed inside the Trojans' locker room: "Coach Carroll does a great job of getting people excited about football," Matthews told the L.A. Times. "We've all bought into it, and it's been pretty successful."

7. Can USC get overconfident? You'd think the Trojans won the BCS title after the way they were lauded following the romp over Virginia, and then when you factor in the status of Wells and how shaky the Buckeyes looked in their game against Ohio it'll be hard to find many folks outside of Columbus touting an OSU upset. In case you were wondering about such things, the Trojans were 2-4 last season covering the spread as a home favorite.

8. Big Game Boeckman? Todd Boeckman's rep is that he's been very steady, but in four games against ranked opponents last season he threw seven TDs and seven INTs. (In the Buckeyes' other games in 2007, he threw 18 TDs and seven INTs.)

9. Pete Carroll out-of-conference magic: In the past five years, his teams have faced six ranked nonconference opponents in the regular season and his record is 6-0 with four of those W's being by at least 17 points.

10. The Rose Bowl: Given the current BCS format, this game actually may be the closest thing the Pac-10 and Big Ten have had in pitting the leagues' two best teams against each other since the 2003 Rose Bowl between USC and Michigan.

RANDOM STUFF

•I was watching the BYU-Washington game when Jake Locker made his terrific run to seemingly set up OT. It was a horrible call and it's a bad rule with too much in between. He wasn't showboating. It was just some emotion coming out. There should be a major distinction made between taunting and celebrating but the refs just don't call it with any consistency. I counted at least five instances Saturday when players made big hits and stood over a fallen player posturing and no flags, and then Locker's ball flip gets the flag.

•Perhaps this is the best indicator of how bad a start it's been for the ACC this season: Miami's effort in a 26-3 loss at Florida might be the most encouraging moment for the league. The Canes' defense went toe-to-toe with arguably the most explosive offense in college football.

Freshman QB Robert Marve was very impressive in his first college game, especially in such a hostile environment. His numbers would've been a lot better had his receivers not dropped a bunch of passes. In fact, the biggest positive for UM probably was the fact that the guys who made the most mental mistakes were its veteran players and it was the freshmen who seemed to shine all night, especially the newbies on D.

There also is some bad blood brewing between Randy Shannon and Urban Meyer stemming from UF's decision to throw in the final minute up 20 points and then kick a field goal. On Sunday, Shannon was asked about how the game affected recruiting, and he referenced his disappointment at Meyer's opting to throw the ball into the end zone near the end of the game:

''I'll just say this one statement,'' Shannon said. "Sometimes when you do things, and people see what type of person you really are, you turn a lot of people off. Now, whatever you want to get out of that, I won't say it again. But it helped us. It helped us more than you'll ever know.''

I'm sure it might've turned off a few folks who aren't in Meyer's corner although I'd be very surprised if there are parents or recruits who had liked UF or Meyer who now don't. Thing is, with situations like that there are always ways to spin it in any way you want. Should he have taken a knee? Should he be more concerned with getting some work for his young kicker?

•I still think Notre Dame's gonna win eight or nine games, but I'm not quite as convinced. The Irish looked awful Saturday and it was stunning to see a team that has talked about how much better its O-line will be struggle to get just 105 rushing yards against a team missing seven projected defensive starters. (Keep in mind, ND now starts four juniors and a senior up front and Cal Poly ran for 263 on the Aztecs.) I'm not sure if this is truly the state of Notre Dame football, but there is this gem from San Diego State coach Chuck Long's postgame news conference. Asked who was better, Notre Dame or Cal Poly, Long responded: "That's a tough question. It's hard to say who's better."

By the way, that same Cal Poly team lost last weekend to Montana.

•Speaking of unimpressive wins, a week after a great debut against Clemson, Alabama generates just 172 yards of offense in a 20-7 victory over a Tulane squad that some believe could be the worst team in C-USA.

•The SEC has more than two terrific quarterbacks. Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead was great against Wake Forest and has star written all over him. Snead's arm and feet had the Rebels' coaches gushing last fall after watching him at practice. In fact, he was the biggest reason the old staff was hoping it could just hang on to get to 2008. It's also ironic that Snead will go down as the biggest recruit from Ed Orgeron's time in Oxford and the online recruiting rankings don't technically count him as part of their rankings because their databases doesn't account for transfers.

•The USF-UCF game was very entertaining, but the rivalry also has had some ugly side notes, as Brett McMurphy reports: "UCF fans got hold of Matt Grothe's cell phone number and bombarded him with hundreds of calls and text messages. Matt Grothe's father, Matt Sr., even received a death threat from a UCF fan on Saturday. Grothe's family was protected by state troopers during the contest and there were no incidents."

•Some transfer news: Southern Miss has two very athletic new linebackers practicing with its defense: Antonio Clay, formerly of Clemson, and ex-Ole Miss player Scottie Williams. USM should really be strong at the position in 2009 assuming star Gerald McRath doesn't jump to the NFL. Another big plus is the emergence of freshman Korey Williams, who looked great in the Auburn game.

•Yes, Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel were at the same high school game (to see prized Shaq Evans and his Inglewood High team play against Wilson) before the Bruins head coach took a helicopter from nearby Hawthorne Airport and flew the 60 miles to watch Los Osos of Rancho Cucamonga quarterback Richard Brehaut, a UCLA commit, play Bishop Amat of La Puente and cornerback Sheldon Price, also a Bruins commit.

•Oklahoma did a lot of damage after it went "empty" set, writes Jake Trotter.

Sam Bradford completed 9 of 11 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown out of empty. And on the first incompletion, Bradford overthrew a wide-open TE Jermaine Gresham. On the other, Gresham dropped a short pass.

•If you're going to L.A. for the Ohio State game and curious about working in a round of golf, check out this story.

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