San Diego State
* Date, Time: Sat., Sept. 17, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional).
* Location: Ohio Stadium.
* Last Year: 4-7. Mountain West: 2-5/seventh.
* Coach: Tom Craft (fourth year at SDSU, 14-22)
* Returning Starters: 12. Offense (6): WR Jeff Webb, LT Will Robinson, LG Taylor Schmidt, RG Chris Pino, WR Robert Ortiz, RB Lynell Hamilton. Defense (4): DT Jonathan Bailes, DE Kurt Kahui, FS Marcus Demps, CB Jacob Elimimian. Specialists (2): K Garrett Palmer, P Michael Hughes.
* Last League Championship: 1986 (WAC).
* Last Time Went To Bowl: 1998.
* Series Vs. Ohio State: The SDSU game completes a three-game contract between the schools. OSU squeaked out wins in 2001 (27-12) and 2003 (16-13).
* Schedule: Sept. 3, UCLA; Sept. 10, at Air Force; Sept. 17, at Ohio State; Sept. 24, San Jose State; Oct. 1, BYU; Oct. 8, at UNLV; Oct. 15, at Utah; Oct. 22, New Mexico; Oct. 29, TCU; Nov. 12, at Colorado State; Nov. 19, Wyoming; Dec. 3, at Hawaii.
* Outlook: It is probably win-or-else this season for Craft.
"Offensively, I think we're better at every position," said Craft, an SDSU alum. "And I think the defense will be faster than any in our first three years."
Senior Matt Dlugolecki, who threw for 189 yards and a touchdown against OSU in 2003, has the inside track to start at quarterback for the Aztecs after splitting duties with sophomore Kevin O'Connell a year ago. Dlugolecki threw for 1,349 yards and six TDs against eight interceptions, while O'Connell threw for 1,328 yards and nine TDs against nine interceptions.
Hamilton, an all-conference pick in 2003 as a freshman, returns at tailback after missing last season due to a broken ankle. Hamilton had 69 yards on 17 carries against OSU in 2003. He ended the year with 1,087 yards and four touchdowns rushing.
Webb had six TDs among his 71 catches last year. Ortiz had 52 catches and six TDs a year ago as well.
"We are still a pretty young football team," Craft said. "But I think we have some experience now because of the injuries we had last year. Offensively, this team will more resemble what we had in mind when we got here in regards to balance."
SDSU must rebuild on defense. Bailes (six sacks) will be the leader up front. Demps (35 tackles, eight pass breakups) is a big hitter at safety.
* Jerry Rudzinski Says: This can be scary when you take a glorified game like Texas, a game people have been talking about since the bowl game back in December, and then you have the Iowa game the week after. This game is sandwiched in there between those two games.
When you do your homework on San Diego State, it's kind of shocking to me that Tom Craft is 14-22 in three seasons. They have been kind of inconsistent. I haven't seen them play a whole lot of games, but I saw them against Ohio State in 2003 and saw how they just out-physicaled the Buckeyes at moments. Then, I watched them in 2004, they beat up Michigan and led for a good part of that game.
The scoop on them is they will go on the road and play well against good teams, but they've been as good at home within their league. This is a game OSU has to show up for. Is it a gimme? Absolutely not. Is it one of the easiest three or four games on the schedule? There is no question. We need to show up and handle them just fine. They are confident against the Big Ten with what they did against OSU two years ago and last year at Michigan.
They have two experienced quarterbacks and they have Lynell Hamilton coming back off that injury. Ohio State will have to take away the run here. They need to make those two quarterbacks try to beat them.
* Steve Helwagen Says: This is an in-between game – for Ohio State and even for me. I wrote the first two installments of this 2005 opponent preview pretty easily. After all, you had the opener with Miami (Ohio) and that big second game against Texas to talk about. But it has taken me an extra day to work up to writing this story on SDSU.
You have to hope Ohio State doesn't view SDSU as a second-rate opponent (again). It happened in 2001, when the game was moved to the middle of the Big Ten season after the Sept. 11 tragedy. As you'll recall, OSU trailed SDSU 12-6 in that game before pulling things together in the second half and pulling away 27-12.
Two years ago, the SDSU game fell conveniently between hyped home games with Washington and N.C. State. Craig Krenzel was intercepted on the first series. OSU got its only touchdown on Will Allen's 100-yard interception return. The Buckeyes were outgained 216-196. To say their heads were somewhere else that day would be somewhat of an understatement.
This year, the SDSU game falls right between the heavily hyped home games with Texas and Iowa. And don't expect the Aztecs to wilt from the Ohio heat or the spotlight of playing a Big Ten team in front of 100,000-plus. Last year, Michigan needed a second-half touchdown to pull out a 24-21 win over SDSU at The Big House.
Offensively, the 6-1, 220-pound Hamilton could prove to be a load and SDSU has some receivers to take note of. Defensively, SDSU needs to rebuild.
But the best thing Ohio State can do is stick to its business and resist the notion that it has "arrived," should it prevail a week earlier against Texas. On paper, this should be OSU by two or three touchdowns. But, as we've found, they don't play these games on paper.