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Know thy Opponent takeover 2008: 11 Warriors

It's a sad day as we deal with the loss of a legend in comedian George Carlin. Mr. Carlin was simply one of the best. Whether you like his "7 dirty words routine" or his appearances in the Kevin smith films, he was funny. he also didn't care if you didn't think he was funny. Thanks for the laughs.

Today is also another takeover days, as I recently spoke with Jason from the noted Ohio State blog 11 Warriors about Purdue's first road contest in Big Ten play. Here is what transpired:

Off the Tracks: Ohio State is the hands down favorite heading into the Big Ten. Assuming they get past USC, what does Ohio State have to fear fromt he rest of the conference?

11 Warriors: A lot. We just spent a good amount of time talking about the 1998 team -- which was probably even more talented than this year's Buckeye squad. That '98 team punked all of the quality teams it faced, but went down to lowly Michigan State at home. They held a 24-7 lead in the third quarter and saw it evaporate and with it their #1 ranking.

The unexpected often does happen. Look at Stanford getting over on USC last season. There's a night game in Madison that has me nervous as well as the trip out to Illinois, and the Buckeyes have had enough problems with each of those teams in recent memory. Then there's Michigan. Yes, they're rebuilding, but crazy things happen in that game. You have to really throw out the records in that one.

Oh yeah -- on more than one occassion, I've woken up in the middle of the night with a nightmare that injuries decimated the team.

OTT: I am looking at Ohio State's roster and trying to find a weakness. I'm not seeing any. What would you say is this team's weakness is?

11W: I really think the play of the line will be the deciding factor in whether the Buckeyes get past USC and get back into the MNC. LSU had great tackles, but they dominated the interior of the offensive line in New Orleans. If Rehring, Cordle and Person play well this season, the offense will be pretty difficult to stop.

If you're an opposing offensive coordinator, you'll probably want to attack the tackles. They're a bit undersized and Hester picking up all of those 3rd-and-shorts is pretty fresh in my head. Penn State did a great job of rolling through the Buckeye defensive tackles to get hats on Laurinaitis and neutralize him a little before the score got out of hand. (Ed. Note: As I have been saying for years, we have to good backs RUN THE BALL!!)

I wouldn't necessarily call those two position groups a "weakness", but rather components that could mean the difference between crystal football and having to listen to another year of smack.

OTT: Do you buy into the BS of too long of a layoff, or did the Buckeyes just flat out get beat the last two years in the National title game?

11W: I think the Big Ten would be better served with 12 teams and a conference title game, but I don't buy into that being the major reason the team lost those two games. The Florida game was a classic tale of a disrespected, yet quality underdog facing a fat and complacent favorite (Tyson/Douglas anyone?). Losing your best player on the opening play of the game was kind of huge as well. Big Ten fans have seen Ginn's speed. He single-handedly changed the way defenses approach the Buckeye offense -- say goodbye to half of your favorite blitzes. But bottom line is that Florida just wanted it more.

LSU was just a better team. They had everyone back healthy and got a solid win over a good, but young Buckeye team. 2007 was the rebuilding year and due to a down Big Ten, they found there way back in it again. The Buckeyes were probably a true #3-6 last year. Still, they had their chances to make it more of a game, but the better team got it done.

OTT: Under Tiller Purdue has often played Ohio State very well with some memorable games (Holy Toledo and Holy Buckeye at the top). What will it take for the Boilers to pull an upset in Columbus?

11W: There have been some great games in this series as of late. Pulling an upset will be a difficult task. There's the aforementioned home field advantage, and with so many new starters for Purdue, there will be a talent gap on the field. But, you're catching the Buckeyes right after the trip to Madison and my childhood is littered with visions of Badgers hurting Buckeyes, so who knows. Having a talented, veteran quarterback like Painter never hurts your cause, either.

OTT: How much will losing the past two national title games effect this year's team? Will it take Ohio State breaking through or the conference as a whole having a better year for the Big Ten save some face?

11W: I'm hoping that the players see last year's game for what it was -- a great team beating a pretty good team. Although these guys were all on the team for the Florida loss, most of them were background players on that 2006 team. The few that did play key roles (Laurinaitis, Freeman, Jenkins and Boone) are all leaders by now and most will likely be serving as captains this season.

I think there are a lot of things that can happen for the Big Ten to save a little face. Yes, Ohio State or another team winning it all would be do wonders. A good showing out of conference is important and finally a good bowl season, which now seems to be the unofficial conference strength scorecard, would help the image problem.The conference needs to bring in better coaches (the SEC is absolutely killing the Big Ten in this department) and the teams need to schedule better nonconference games (I'm looking at you Wisconsin). Finally, all contracts with Notre Dame should be suspended until the Irish get their swag back. That win is worth dick these days. (Ed Note: no 1-AA games would help too. The Big Ten has had four embarassing losses to 1-AA teams in the last two years.)

OTT: Will the 2008 team be closer to the Tressell-ball type of team that won the 2002 title, or can Ohio State light it up offensively if necessary? Is it officially national title or bust this year?

11W: What Tressel really never gets enough credit for is the fact that he changes his offensive philosophy to match the type of talent he has for the season. The 2002 "Tressel Ball" label kind of stuck with him because that's how he won that year, but we've seen that he's more than willing to open it up if the skill at hand fits that approach. I expect the offense will look a lot like 2007, but more polished and probably a little more unpredictable. And Pryor.

I hate to say it, but it probably is title or bust. It's sad that it's gotten to this point, but 1998 was also title or bust and that's just part of having prolonged success and carrying high expectations. (Ed. Note: As opposed to, say, managed expectations...)

OTT: Finally, Oho State fans are notorious for taking over opponents' stadiums by traveling well. What kind of edge does this give the Buckeyes when playing on the road?

11W: Buckeye fans do love to travel and on more than one occasion, it's bailed out the team (Indiana 1996, for one). There are a few factors at play here. First, the school is ginormous and the alumni base is eually huge. Second, Columbus is a pretty large town -- the metro area is actually a little larger than that of Indianapolis. Until very recently with the arrival of the NHL and MLS, Ohio State was the only show in town. Toss in the fact that there aren't exactly a whole lot of things to do in Ohio during the fall and winter and you can see why Buckeye fans travel so well.

Thanks for stopping by Jason! Later on this summer I'll probably be answer some questions of his over at 11 Warriors. It looks like the Boilers will certainly have their hands full in Columbus.