Sorry for the extended absence. A long layoff for the Tigers and some pretty heavy work demands on my end in the middle of the holiday season (and my birthday! Happy birthday to me!) resulted in my taking a little hiatus, and now I'm refreshed.
As we've got another 10 days to the title game, we've got plenty of time now to discuss all the goings on. I'm going to get things started again by introducing Ryan from Around the Oval, our network's excellent Ohio State blog. We'll be doing an extended Q&A leading up to the national title game. Here is the first installment, hope you enjoy it. (FYI, he's got my answers to his questions posted here, so feel free to let me know what you think about my answers to his questions.)
ATO: Considering Ohio State was so heavily favored in a game where the head coach and Heisman trophy-winning quarterback had nearly spotless records in "big" games in their careers up to that point, it's difficult to pinpoint just one thing that went wrong. Losing Ted Ginn after the opening TD definitely didn't help the situation, but his sole presence would not have made up for the 27 point differential. I would definitely have to chalk the loss up to an even mixture of overconfidence, under-preparedness, and the simple fact that Florida showed up to play, and Ohio State did not. Some of the returning players have openly admitted that they entered that game expecting Troy to simply dish the ball off to one of Ted Ginn or fellow NFL first round pick Anthony Gonzalez, jog up to the line of scrimmage, and repeat that same process. Also, with a plethora of award nominees, many of the team's key contributors (Troy, Ted, Anthony, and Laurinaitis) spent more time wearing suits in front of microphones rather than conditioning themselves for the game. Looking at the game itself, it was also apparent that only a handful of guys actually wanted to win that game. The offensive line was up and down all season long, but had never been that time in all of Tressel's tenure, the "bend, don't break," defense was clearly exposed as a fraud against Michigan, and Florida took full advantage of that, and Troy Smith was so content in winning the Heisman that he was looking for the first train out of Columbus.
Why should the world not expect a repeat performance?
ATO:I think starting OT Alex Boone put it best when he said that all he has heard in the time leading up to the game that "we're gonna get killed,' and that "when you hear that for a month, you start getting pissed off." As I already mentioned, the 2006 Buckeyes played as if they didn't care how the game played out, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the case will be completely different this year. Many Florida players last year said that they drew motivation from essentially being told how undeserving they were, and the case is very much the same for the Buckeyes this year. The players have already vowed to take the time off between games much more seriously, and with a coach that is arguably better at preparing his team for big games than even Woody Hayes (yes, I went there), there is little doubt in my mind - or any Buckeye fan's mind, for that matter - that this will be one of the best, sharpest performances that this team has put together all season.
Though external events aligned to allow the Buckeyes into the national title game again this year, how do you feel about the Big 10's season ending so early that it appeared to disadvantage the one-loss Buckeyes? Do you feel the Big 10 ought to have a conference championship game? Why do you think it doesn't?
ATO:The simple reason that the Big 10 does not have a conference championship game is because there are only 11 teams in the conference, so there can be no divisions, and thus, no championship game. Of course, fans and pundits alike have wanted Notre Dame to join as the 12th team for some time now, but that would cost the Domers too much cash and publicity, and I can't blame them for wanting to be the world's most glorified one-win team. Teams like Pittsburgh or Iowa State could be a much more logical choice to fill the void, but who knows how practical that really is.
It should be noted, however, that the Michigan-Ohio State game has actually served as a conference title game each of the past two seasons, and it should also be noted that Big 10 school presidents have already voted to add an additional week to the schedule (so teams will now have bye-weeks), and the regular season will end the same week as the rest of the country (beginning in 2009, I believe).
I think a Big 10 title game would serve as untraditional in perhaps one of the most tradition-rich conferences in America. One of the things that makes the UM-OSU rivalry so special is that it so often acts as a conference championship, and forcing those teams to play another game after going against each other would just be plain out weird. I couldn't imagine a season where the Ohio State-Michigan game wasn't the last regular season game played.
What do you think contributed to the down year in the Big 10 (which seems to be a consensus opinion)?
ATO:There are a few plausible solutions to this question. When Ohio State and Michigan - two teams that were dubbed as the top two in the country for much of 2006 - were shellacked in their bowl games, it created a perception that the two teams were overrated all year long, and benefited by beating up on weak Big 10 teams. Then, when much of that "vaunted" UM defense graduated and the top four offensive producers on OSU left, the two faces of the conference were left without an identity, and considering no other team like PSU, Iowa, or Wisconsin appeared ready to step up, the Big 10 had essentially lost before the 2007 season began.
Then, when the 2007 season began, Appalachian State happened, and I really don't think that needs much explaining.
Given you posed the question to me, I'll pose it back to you: how do YOU feel about the "SEC Speed" mantra?
ATO:Interestingly enough, I came across a chart comparing the 40-times at varying positions between Ohio State, LSU, and Florida, and Ohio State actually more than held their own at each position (with the exception of pocket-prone Todd Boeckman at QB). What does that mean? Well, if the National Championship game were to suddenly turn into a track meet, then a whole lot, but other than that, not a whole lot. One thing it does show, though, is that SEC teams cannot simply outrun Big Ten teams en route to a victory, but they must also outplay them as well. The real reason why the SEC has dominated the past few years has more to do with the fact that they have played better football than the teams that they've played, not that they're significantly faster.
What are you hearing about the expected OSU turnout for the game? Will the stands be evenly split between OSU and LSU fans?
ATO:You would think that after a third BCS title birth in six years that demand for tickets would slow down, but not in Buckeye country. The Buckeye faithful will follow their team wherever they go, and that includes the heart of Louisiana. Will it be a 50-50 split? That's tough to say considering that the game is being played in LSU's back yard, but if the Tigers are expecting the equivalent of a home crowd in Baton Rouge, they will be in for a nasty surprise.
Thanks Ryan! As I mentioned earlier, he and I will be continuing this over the next week and change heading into the game.
Thoughts? Comments? Holiday wishes? I Tivo'd SportsCenter tonight and will need to watch it later to see what they're saying about this Buckeye Speed thing...no comments just yet.