Every year, when Ohio State gets ready to suit up against a perceived cupcake in the nonconference season – such as Saturday's matchup with visiting Ohio (1-1) – one of the topics of discussion at each media session with the team involves reporters asking players how they plan to avoid taking that upcoming foe lightly.
It's not a bad story, just one that ends up being heard almost every year. So what the tale needs a good storyteller, someone who can breathe life into what is otherwise an ordinary yarn.
What the story needs is Justin Boren.
Boren, after all, was on the Michigan team that famously lost to Appalachian State to start the 2007 season, a game that's still looked upon by many as the greatest upset in the history of the sport.
In other words, the typical line about respecting every opponent means a little more coming from Boren.
"College football is weird," he said. "You have these teams that are ranked really high and you have these teams that aren't ranked, but they're all good. I was on the team that lost to Appalachian State and then beat Florida the same year. Each week is different. You think the talent is going to be so much better on a No. 1- or No. 2-ranked team, and there are better players, but everyone can play."
And lest there be any doubt that the Bobcats will bring a solid team to Columbus, the second-ranked Buckeyes can look back to the last few times they've suited up against the Hunter Green and White.
In 1999, Jim Grobe's Bobcats mystified Ohio State through one half, going into the break tied at 10 behind solid defense and the deft hand and nifty running of freshman option quarterback Dontrell Jackson. Three third-quarter touchdowns blew the game open, but the 40-16 win was closer than John Cooper's Buckeyes had expected.
The last time the Bobcats came into Ohio Stadium, the story was similar. Without star tailback Chris Wells, the Buckeyes slumbered through three quarters, watching OU build a 14-6 lead thanks to a touchdown run by Donte Harden and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Curtis Meyers. Touchdowns by Dan Herron, Brandon Saine and Ray Small gave OSU a 26-14 win, but Ohio still led in the fourth quarter.
"I definitely remember being down in the first half, only getting a field goal out of the first quarter, just not being able to get things clicking offensively," wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "I think that's kind of motivation in itself to turn it around for us."
Both Harden and Meyers return from that OU team, though Harden is suspended for the first six games and Meyers is a reserve lineman after missing 2009 with an injury. The Bobcats also have such talent as second-team All-MAC players LaVon Brazill (wideout/punt returner) and Noah Keller (linebacker) returning from a team that won nine games last year and the MAC Eastern Division.
Ohio also has Boo Jackson, the quarterback whose rushing skills confounded OSU at times in 2008 before his three interceptions did the Bobcats in.
"Everyone that is playing college football is a good player," Boren said. "You have guys at OU that can play in some of the bigger programs."
In addition to the struggle in 2008, the Buckeyes posted a stinker in 2007 – beating Akron by a 20-2 final – and scuffled to a win against a game Navy team in the '09 opener. With a goal of reaching the national championship game, the Buckeyes are trying to avoid reprising those less than stellar performances.
"I think a lot of people don't understand the weekly preparation for each game," Sanzenbacher said. "It's easy to see the product on Saturday, but a lot goes into every game, whether it's Miami or OU. Every week we want to be able to put our best team on the field. We work all week watching the film on the opponent, trying to put in things that we think will work against the opponent, and obviously when you struggle on Saturday it's frustrating."
Still, it's almost a natural human tendency to take Ohio – as well as following opponents Eastern Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, three of the teams thought to be weakest on the schedule in the preseason – lightly, especially after the big win Saturday against No. 12 Miami. Head coach Jim Tressel admitted as much during his Tuesday press conference.
"Well, the first thing that will make it difficult is OU will be tough and they'll be good," Tressel said. "The second thing is reality, that when you play in an emotional game, is there that human tendency to take a deep breath."
But if that's a problem for any players, Boren should come calling. A week after a Virginia Tech team that started the year in the top 10 lost to FCS foe James Madison and Minnesota fell to South Dakota, the Michigan transfer is saying the same thing can happen to the Buckeyes if they are not careful.
"It can happen any week," he said. "It seems like every year there's a couple of those games. When I first got here some guys asked about (the Appalachian State game). It's definitely an interesting topic, but it's a real issue. People think that these teams are so much different, but they're really not."