TEMPE, Ariz. The Buckeyes better start praying for a fluke.
That’s what it will take for Ohio State (13-0) to unseat defending national champion Miami (12-0) tonight in the Fiesta Bowl.
Why? Because quite simply, the Hurricanes have it all. Let’s review:
Miami has two Heisman Trophy finalists in its backfield, senior quarterback Ken Dorsey and sophomore tailback Willis McGahee.
Dorsey receives the ball from the top offensive lineman in college football, Dave Rimington Award winner Brett Romberg.
Romberg is flanked by the largest tackle combo in the game: 6-foot-5, 363-pound Vernon Carey and 6-6, 334-pound Carlos Joseph.
Dorsey’s favorite deep target is junior Andre Johnson, who became the first player in nearly 20 years at Michael Irvin U. to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving barrier. And his favorite possession receiver is sophomore Kellen Winslow, the most productive tight end in the nation this season with 46 receptions for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Miami defense is anchored by a front line some consider to be the best in the game’s history.
“They’ve got seven guys in their eight-man rotation that will play on Sunday,” said one NFL scout before the Hurricanes demolished Tennessee 26-3 in Knoxville earlier this season. “Right now, I’d say Ohio State might have seven guys on the whole team who are future draft picks.”
Miami features two 100-tackle linebackers in Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams and a secondary that simply led the nation in passing yards allowed (119.5).
Heck, the Hurricanes even lead the nation in football pedigrees thanks to Winslow and Jarrett (“Son of Walter”) Payton.
That outrageous arsenal of talent has contributed to a 34-game winning streak, the longest college football has seen in 30 years, and back-to-back trips to the national title game. Staggeringly, 50 players on Miami’s roster have never experienced a loss as a Hurricane. And second-year coach Larry Coker, 25-0 entering tonight’s game, has never removed his headset with a frown on his face.
“Yeah, this head coaching thing is a breeze,” Coker joked earlier this week.
Enter Ohio State, a typical blue-collar Big Ten team that will try to halt the Miami juggernaut armed only with a prehistoric offense and a somewhat slow-footed defense.
That’s college football’s equivalent of a moped playing chicken with a Hummer.
Asked if he had used the large point spread as motivation for his team, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel replied, “We’ve never used the word ‘underdog’ with our guys. How do you control a team like Miami? It’s no easy task. I think Miami has the greatest combination of explosiveness and balance of any team we’ve faced.
“Our guys know that every tackle is going to be important, every shed of every block. You have to play your best football to compete against the likes of Miami. Our guys are very aware of the challenge ahead, and they’re very anxious. Miami is unique because they bring speed, tenacity and explosiveness, and they’re well-schooled. Who knows if you are prepared for that?”
All indications suggest that Ohio State can’t possibly be prepared for such an onslaught. Quite frankly, it’s nearly miraculous that the Buckeyes even made it to Tempe. Ohio State trailed in its final six games, winning five by a touchdown or less. They needed a last-second interception in the end zone to beat Cincinnati (23-19), a desperate fourth-down touchdown heave with 1:50 remaining to beat Purdue (10-6), a pair of dicey calls in overtime to survive a trip to Illinois (23-16) and a goal-line interception on the game’s final play to down Michigan (14-9).
“We’ve had more than our share of close calls, but we’re here, aren’t we?” said All-American safety Mike Doss.
Yep, here today and likely gone tomorrow. The Buckeyes might believe they’re a team of destiny, but fortune won’t help them tackle McGahee, cover Johnson or block Miami’s “Magnificent Front Seven.”
Yet the magnitude of the mismatch obviously doesn’t guarantee a Miami victory. Stranger things have happened at Sun Devil Stadium, where Miami is 0-3 in Fiesta Bowl appearances. The most notable of these came after the 1986 season, when top-ranked Miami was upset by a similarly overmatched Penn State team 14-10.
Though Nitwits would like you to believe the outcome was a testament to JoePa’s brilliance, realists probably would concede that it was a complete fluke. Miami rolled up 445 yards of offense to Penn State’s 162 but saw its dominance short-circuited by seven turnovers.
Such a game is Coker’s greatest, and perhaps only, fear.
“We can’t turn the ball over and give Ohio State field position,” said Coker yesterday. “I think that will be the key for us.”
Barring such a debacle, Ohio State might not make it to halftime with its upset hopes intact. The Hurricanes are so confident in their superiority that at least one Miami player isn’t even sure the Buckeyes are the team’s most appropriate opponent from Ohio. The chatty Romberg was asked Wednesday how he thought his ‘Canes would fare against the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
“I know it would be a close ballgame,” said the All-American center. “I’m hoping that [the Fiesta Bowl] will not be a close ballgame. It’s so much more fun when you can spend the second half celebrating.”