It’s here. The big game. The one that fans, pundits, and Carson Palmer have been longing for since January. The one that pits Ohio State and USC, two juggernauts of the college football world, the two most dominant programs of the past decade, head to head to decide who has the inside track to this year’s national title game.
For Ohio State, expectations have never been lower. It seems the Buckeyes, aided considerably by their Big Ten brethren, have successfully underwhelmed the nation.
First, there were those past two national title games. (Sample SEC joke: “What do the Buckeyes and marijuana have in common?” Answer: “They both get smoked in bowls.”)
Then the new season started. Week One saw impressive Big Ten victories over seven YMCA-sponsored flag football teams, while the conference went 0-3 in the only games that mattered. (Note: this disappointment brought to you by Juice Williams and two teams from a certain State Up North, as if we needed more reasons to be bitter.) And if that wasn’t enough, even the Buckeyes’ stomping of Youngstown State took on a sour taste when Beanie Wells went down with what I’m sure SEC fans are calling a stubbed toe.
Week Two would get no better. In a dazzling display of mediocrity, Ohio State edged out the mighty Ohio Bobcats in a game designed, we can only hope, to boost Beanie’s spirits by showing him just how bad the team would be without him. Sort of like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life", but instead of ending up in Potterville the Buckeyes end up third in the MAC.
Predictably, the media took note. The Buckeyes, despite winning their first two games, dropped in the polls both weeks. That’s hard to do. They were second. Then third. Now they’re fifth, and from what I can tell, lucky to be there. USC meanwhile played one game, dominated a BCS opponent (Wait, wait, wait, don’t say it’s only Virginia. Remember, we almost lost to Ohio.), and rose to the top of the rankings. Then they had a week off, allowing their quarterback, who threw for something like 10,000 yards in the opener, to get back to full health. As a result, about four people outside of Columbus now expect Ohio State to beat USC Saturday. Which can mean only one thing:
Jim Tressel is a genius.
Think about it. How silent he’s been on the status of Beanie’s injury. How last week he kept the score close enough to plausibly keep Terrelle Pryor on the bench for most of the game. How he “suspended” starting cornerback Donald Washington for the first two games. Clearly, Jim Tressel asked himself: “How can I keep a terrific coach like Pete Carroll from accurately scouting my players?” And came up with the only possible answer: “I’ll only play some of ’em. Heh, heh.”
Yes, you heard it here first. Jim Tressel is playing the ultimate mind game. All out psychological warfare. A deft manipulation of information that makes Karl Rove look like a simple, lumpy-headed schoolboy. Brilliant. No one would expect such tactics from Senator Tressel, which means it’s the perfect plan…and the only explanation that makes sense. After all, a team that went to a national championship last year, returned 19 out of 22 starters, and picked up the fourth best recruiting class in the nation can’t be that bad, right?
I guess we’ll just have to tune in Saturday to find out. The good news is the Buckeyes have lowered expectations to the point where they can’t lose either way. Which, I suppose, makes Jim Tressel an even greater genius.