- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Top-ranked Ohio State (11-1) has a serious case of the Dangerfields heading into Monday night’s BCS title game against No. 2 LSU (11-2).

The barons of the Big Ten lost just one game this season, falling to fellow BCS bowl team Illinois (9-4). They finished the regular season ranked first in the nation in total defense (225.25 yards), scoring defense (10.7 points) and the polls.

And yet, most of the last month has been dedicated to Buckeye bashing. It seems nobody has forgotten the 41-14 thrashing Ohio State took from Florida in last season’s title game. The Gators sacked Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith five times and held the Buckeyes to 92 yards of total offense.

“Last year, we got embarrassed,” Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone said. “Everybody remembers that, and that’s all anyone wants to talk about.”

Even the lone Buckeye highlight from that debacle, Ted Ginn’s 93-yard touchdown return of the game’s opening kickoff, became something of a punchline when Ginn injured himself in his post-return celebration.

And for many college football fans and pundits, the heavily favored Buckeyes’ performance against Florida became emblematic of the Big Ten’s inferiority to the SEC. The Big Ten’s plodding, power-based standard has since been cast as the dial-up dinosaur to the Wi-Fi of SEC speed.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Ohio State is 0-8 in bowl games against the SEC, even though all but two of those losses came before coach Jim Tressel arrived in Columbus.

“I think those past games and whatever the record may be, 0-8 or 8-0, have no influence on this season or the outcome of this game,” Ohio State wideout Brian Robiskie said. “I think this team is completely different than any of those other eight teams.”

Maybe, but it’s hard to dispel images of Florida rush end Derrick Harvey erupting past Boone time and again last season en route to defensive MVP honors. It’s hard to dismiss the speed argument when the SEC is once again a conference-best 6-2 in bowl season. And it’s impossible to table the theory when LSU awaits the Buckeyes with a defensive line that is more daunting than last season’s group of Gators. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and bookends Tyson Jackson and Kirston Pittman boast a combined 51 career tackles for loss and 37 sacks.

“They’re very, very good,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “Comparable to Florida? We’ll see. I’ll say this, they’re much bigger.”

Although LSU back-doored its way into the title game just like the Buckeyes, both swiping spots in the final regular-season weekend, it’s Ohio State who has seen its schedule and title-game invitation mocked by the national media.

“Yeah, for a month straight all you hear is not only how you can’t win, but how you don’t deserve to be in the game,” Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. “That’s an added flame to your fire.”

Even Tressel joined in the act. Just to make certain his charges harbored no delusions about their reputation, the Ohio State coach commissioned a 10-minute compilation of media clips ripping his team. After a team-wide, film-room viewing, each Ohio State player received a personal copy as a stocking stuffer.

Boone showed the video to his grandmother and nearly had to restrain her from kicking in the TV.

“She’s going nuts at the TV, and I had to remind her she’s a little older, get her to calm down,” Boone said. “Obviously, you watch films like that and you realize just how much everybody hates you. I think it was a great thing because it made us more humble.”

That’s Ohio State’s mantra this week: humble and hungry. Apparently, that attitude is in stark contrast to last season’s title-game approach.

“Last year everybody was like, ‘Man, you guys are going to win,’ ” Boone said. “ ’You guys got Troy [Smith], you got Teddy [Ginn], Gonzo [Anthony Gonzalez]. You’ve got all these superstars. You can’t lose.’ This year it’s like, ‘Who do you guys have?’

“I think we’re just a blue-collar team. No one knows who we are. Last year people kept saying, ‘You’re going to win. You’re going to win.’ You start to think you’re going to win and maybe you don’t practice as hard. This year it’s the opposite. You’re too slow. You’re not going to make it. You don’t hit hard enough. We’ve been taking practices up another level, running and hitting as hard as we can. I think it’s going to be different.”

The answer will come Monday night. Las Vegas predicts LSU by four points. The media and recent SEC-Big Ten history suggest LSU by four scores. The ultimate season of unpredictability screams: “Beware of dog.”

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