* Date, Time: Mon., Jan. 2, 5 p.m. (Eastern); 3 p.m. (Mountain local time)
* Location: Sun Devil Stadium (capacity, 73,752); Tempe, Ariz.
* TV: ABC (announcers, Brent Musberger, Gary Danielson and Jack Arute).
* Radio: Three different radio outlets will broadcast the game. The Ohio State radio network will broadcast the game across Ohio with Columbus' WBNS (AM 1460 and FM 97.1) as the flagship stations. Paul Keels, Jim Lachey and Jim Karsatos will call the action on the OSU network.
ESPN Radio will carry the game to a national network with Dave Pasch, Rodney Gilmore, Trevor Matich and Stacy Dales-Schuman calling the action. Notre Dame also has a national radio network on Westwood One, including WMNI-AM (920) in Columbus. Tony Roberts and Allen Pinkett call the action on the ND/Westwood One network.
* 2005 Records, Rankings: Ohio State, 9-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (tied for conference title), ranked fourth in Associated Press poll, USA Today coaches poll and BCS rankings; Notre Dame, 9-2 overall, ranked fifth in AP poll, sixth in USA Today coaches poll and sixth in BCS rankings.
* Coaches: Ohio State, Jim Tressel (fifth year at OSU, 49-13; 20th year overall, 184-70-2; vs. Notre Dame, first meeting); Notre Dame, Charlie Weis (first year at ND, 9-2; vs. OSU, first meeting).
* Series History: The all-time series is tied at 2-2. Notre Dame won games in 1935-36 (18-13 in 1935 and 7-2 in 1936). Ohio State won games in 1995-96 (45-26 in 1995 and 29-16 in 1996). For a complete look at the OSU-Notre Dame rivalry, click this link:
* Ohio State is 17-19 all-time in bowl games, including 3-1 in the Fiesta Bowl. That record includes a loss to Penn State in 1980 and wins over Pittsburgh in 1984, Miami (Fla.) in 2003 and Kansas State in 2004. The win over Miami was in the BCS national championship game. OSU has won three straight bowl games.
Notre Dame is 13-13 all-time in bowl games, including 1-2 in the Fiesta Bowl. That includes a win over West Virginia for the national championship in 1989 and losses to Colorado in 1995 and Oregon State in 2001. ND has lost its last seven bowl appearances, dating to a win over Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.
* Ohio State is 3-0 all-time in BCS bowl appearances with a win over Texas A&M in the 1999 Sugar Bowl and the wins over Miami (Fla.) and Kansas State at the Fiesta Bowl.
Notre Dame is making its second-ever BCS appearance, following the loss to Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
* The OSU seniors will be gunning for what would be their 43rd win. That would tie the school record for wins in a four-year period.
With this game remaining, the seniors have a four-year record of 42-8. The 1998 senior class posted a record of 43-7.
* Ohio State is 24-31-7 all-time against top-five ranked teams, including a loss to then-No. 2 Texas on Sept. 10.
Notre Dame is 39-48-5 all-time against top-five ranked teams. ND had dropped seven straight games to top-five teams before a Sept. 10 win over then-No. 3 Michigan. But the Fighting Irish subsequently lost to No. 1 USC.
* Ohio State has an all-time record of 15-9-1 in games matching top-five teams. That includes a record of 4-6 in bowl game match-ups of top-five teams.
* OSU is 63-45-8 all-time against top-10 opponents, including 5-2 under Tressel. That includes a win over No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. The losses were to then-No. 5 Michigan in 2003 and then-No. 2 Texas earlier this year.
* The Buckeyes are 108-99-12 all-time against ranked opponents, including 4-2 this year.
* OSU will be after its 14th 10-win season in school history, its eighth in 13 years and third in four years.
Notre Dame will be after its 15th 10-win season, although it would just be its second since 1993.
* The winner of this game will be guaranteed a top-five finish in the final polls. It would be OSU's third top-five finish in four years. Notre Dame would finish in the top five for the first time since a No. 2 finish in 1993.
* This will be the final Fiesta Bowl game played at Sun Devil Stadium. Next year, the game will move to Glendale, Ariz., and the new stadium built for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.
Charting Ohio State
* Ohio State Fast Facts: Location: Columbus, Ohio; Enrollment, 47,952; Nickname, Buckeyes; Colors, Scarlet and Gray; Stadium, Ohio Stadium (surface, grass; capacity, 101,568).
* Ohio State Key Players (2005 Stats): QB Troy Smith (130 of 209 passing, 1,940 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs; 123 carries, 545 yards, 11 TDs), RB Antonio Pittman (222 carries, 1,195 yards, 6 TDs), WR Santonio Holmes (48 catches, 853 yards, 10 TDs), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (43 catches, 636 yards, 3 TDs; 1 punt return TD; 1 kick return TD), OLB A.J. Hawk (109 tackles, 13 TFLs, 7-1/2 sacks), MLB Anthony Schlegel (75 tackles, 7 TFLs), SS Donte Whitner (64 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 INTs), CB Ashton Youboty (50 tackles, 5 TFLs, 1 INT, 8 PBUs), OLB Bobby Carpenter (49 tackles, 10-1/2 TFLs, 8 sacks).
* Ohio State Schedule: Here is a game-by-game look at the 2005 Ohio State season (all games home unless noted; game day rankings in parentheses).
Sept. 3: Ohio State (6) 34, Miami (Ohio) 14 -- Antonio Pittman had 100 yards rushing and Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes each had TD catches as the Buckeyes built a 34-0 lead and coasted to victory.
Sept. 10: Texas (2) 25, Ohio State (4) 22 -- Texas QB Vince Young threw for 270 yards and two TDs as the Longhorns snapped OSU's 36-game home nonconference winning streak and also became the first road team to win a night game at Ohio Stadium. Josh Huston tied the OSU record with five field goals.
Sept. 17: Ohio State (9) 27, San Diego State 6 -- Troy Smith made his first start at QB and rushed for two TDs in an otherwise unremarkable performance.
Sept. 24: Ohio State (8) 31, Iowa (21) 6 -- Smith was masterful, throwing for 191 yards and two TDs and rushing for 127 yards and two TDs as OSU avenged a 33-7 loss to Iowa from the year before. Pittman added 171 yards on 28 carries and the defense held Iowa to 137 yards total offense.
Oct. 8, at Penn State: Penn State (16) 17, Ohio State (6) 10 -- A sellout crowd of 109,839, a steady rain and a night game at Beaver Stadium did not go well for OSU. Smith had a costly interception to set up a PSU touchdown and had a late fumble to end a comeback bid. OSU ended up with 230 yards total offense, while the defense limited PSU to 195 yards.
Oct. 15: Ohio State (15) 35, Michigan State (16) 24 -- OSU was staring at a possible 20-7 halftime deficit when Nate Salley blocked an MSU field goal and Ashton Youboty returned it 72 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. OSU went on to post the win despite four turnovers. Smith threw for 249 yards and three TDs. The defense sacked MSU's Drew Stanton a school-record 12 times.
Oct. 22, at Indiana: Ohio State (13) 41, Indiana 10 -- Smith ran for two scores and ran for another, while Ginn had a 62-yard punt return TD and Brandon Mitchell returned an interception 57 yards for a score. The defense allowed 137 yards.
Oct. 29, at Minnesota: Ohio State (12) 45, Minnesota 31 -- OSU won despite giving up the second-highest yardage total in school history (578 yards, including 396 passing). Pittman carried 23 times for 186 yards and two TDs, Smith threw for 233 yards and three TDs (two to Holmes) and Ginn had a 100-yard kick return touchdown.
Nov. 5: Ohio State (12) 40, Illinois 2 -- Smith threw for 298 yards and three scores (two more to Holmes) and Pittman added 96 yards and two TDs. The defense held Illinois to 160 yards and the Illini scored only on a return of a bad snap on an OSU PAT attempt.
Nov. 12: Ohio State (10) 48, Northwestern (25) 7 -- The Buckeyes avenged a 33-27 overtime loss at NU in 2004 with Smith rushing for two TDs and A.J. Hawk returning a blocked punt by Quinn Pitcock for a score. The seniors went out win a win and a four-year home record of 27-2.
Nov. 19, at Michigan: Ohio State (9) 25, Michigan (17) 21 -- Smith directed a pair of late touchdown drives as OSU rallied from down 21-12 with seven minutes left to steal a rare win in Ann Arbor. Smith threw for a career-high 300 yards and one TD and also rushed for a score. Pittman had 85 yards and the game-winning 3-yard TD with 24 seconds left. It was OSU's fourth win over Michigan in five years.
* Depth Chart: Here is a look at the offensive and defensive depth charts.
Ohio State Offense
SE 4 Santonio Holmes, 5-11, 190, Jr.
8 Roy Hall, 6-3, 240, Jr.
LT 50 Doug Datish, 6-5, 295, Jr.
73 Steve Winner, 6-6, 300, Jr.
LG 77 Rob Sims, 6-4, 310, Sr.
59 John Conroy, 6-3, 295, Sr.
C 55 Nick Mangold, 6-4, 290, Sr.
50 Doug Datish, 6-5, 295, Jr.
RG 72 T.J. Downing, 6-5, 305, Jr.
68 Tim Schafer, 6-5, 290, Jr.
RT 74 Kirk Barton, 6-7, 325, So.
75 Alex Boone, 6-8, 315, Fr.
TE 81 Marcel Frost, 6-5, 255, So.
87 Brandon Smith, 6-3, 240, R-Fr.
FL 7 Ted Ginn Jr., 6-0, 175, So.
5 Albert Dukes, 6-1, 190, R-Fr.
QB 10 Troy Smith, 6-1, 215, Jr.
12 Justin Zwick, 6-4, 225, Jr.
TB 25 Antonio Pittman, 5-11, 195, So.
34 Maurice Wells, 5-10, 185, Fr.
FB 89 Stan White Jr., 6-3, 242, Jr.
49 Dionte Johnson, 6-0, 250, So.
SL 11 Anthony Gonzalez, 6-0, 195, So.
85 Brian Robiskie, 6-3, 190, Fr.
K 23 Josh Huston, 6-1, 195, Sr.
85 Ryan Pretorius, 5-10, 190, R-Fr.
Ohio State Defense
DE 97 David Patterson, 6-3, 285, Jr.
99 Jay Richardson, 6-6, 276, Jr.
DT 94 Marcus Green, 6-3, 290, Sr.
97 David Patterson, 6-3, 285, Jr.
DT 90 Quinn Pitcock, 6-3, 295, Jr.
98 Joel Penton, 6-5, 290, Jr.
DE 57 Mike Kudla, 6-3, 265, Sr.
78 Alex Barrow, 6-4, 255, R-Fr.
SLB 42 Bobby Carpenter, 6-3, 255, Sr.
or 33 James Laurinaitis, 6-3, 231, Fr.
MLB 51 Anthony Schlegel, 6-1, 251, Sr.
5 Mike D'Andrea, 6-3, 248, Jr.
WLB 47 A.J. Hawk, 6-1, 240, Sr.
52 John Kerr, 6-1, 246, Jr.
CB 26 Ashton Youboty, 6-1, 188, Jr.
2 Malcolm Jenkins, 6-1, 180, Fr.
FS 21 Nate Salley, 6-3, 220, Sr.
32 Brandon Mitchell, 6-3, 205, Jr.
SS 9 Donte Whitner, 5-11, 205, Jr.
3 Jamario O'Neal, 6-1, 180, Fr.
CB 6 Tyler Everett, 5-11, 202, Sr.
2 Malcolm Jenkins, 6-1, 180, Fr.
NB 32 Brandon Mitchell, 6-3, 205, Jr.
34 Rob Harley, 6-2, 202, Sr.
P 15 A.J. Trapasso, 6-1, 220, R-Fr.
LS 68 Drew Norman, 6-0, 230, Jr.
Charting Notre Dame
* Notre Dame Fast Facts: Location: South Bend, Ind.; Enrollment, 8,261; Nickname, Fighting Irish; Colors, Blue and Gold; Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium (surface, grass; capacity, 80,795).
* Notre Dame Key Players (2005 Stats): QB Brady Quinn (263 of 405 passing, 3,633 yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs), RB Darius Walker (237 carries, 1,106 yards, 6 TDs), WR Jeff Samardzija (71 catches, 1,190 yards, 15 TDs), WR Maurice Stovall (60 catches, 1,023 yards, 11 TDs), LB Brandon Hoyte (82 tackles, 15-1/2 TFLs, six sacks), LB Corey Mays (68 tackles, 10-1/2 TFLs, four sacks), DB Tom Zbikowski (62 tackles, five INTs).
* Notre Dame Schedule: Here is a game-by-game look at the 2005 Notre Dame season (all games home unless noted; game day rankings in parentheses).
Sept. 3, at Pittsburgh: Notre Dame 42, Pittsburgh (23) 21 -- A 28-point second quarter explosion helped ND easily win Charlie Weis' debut as the Irish head coach. QB Brady Quinn threw for 227 yards and two TDs. The Irish scored on five of their first six possessions.
Sept. 10, at Michigan: Notre Dame (20) 17, Michigan (3) 10 -- Weis became the first ND coach to win his first two games on the road since Knute Rockne in 1918. The Irish ended a string of seven straight losses to top-five teams. Quinn threw for two TDs and the defense did just enough to hold UM to one touchdown at The Big House.
Sept. 17: Michigan State 44, Notre Dame (10) 41, OT -- ND rallied from down 21 to force overtime, but Jason Teague's 19-yard TD run was the game winner. It spoiled Weis' home debut as the ND coach and a huge effort by Quinn (33 of 60, 487 yards, five TDs).
Sept. 24, at Washington: Notre Dame (16) 36, Washington 17 -- Darius Walker hit the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game with 128 yards and one TD. The Irish defeated UW, coached by former ND coach Tyrone Willingham. ND had 560 yards total offense in the win.
Oct. 1, at Purdue: Notre Dame (13) 49, Purdue (22) 28 -- ND moved to 4-0 on the road as Quinn threw for 440 yards and three TDs. The Irish built a 28-0 halftime lead and coasted to the easy win.
Oct. 15: USC (1) 34, Notre Dame (9) 31 -- ND came within three seconds of upsetting top-ranked USC. But the Trojans won a game with three ties and four lead changes on QB Matt Leinhart's 1-yard TD run with three seconds left. Quinn threw for 264 yards and one TD and one INT. His 5-yard TD run gave ND a 31-28 lead with 2:04 left before USC drove 75 yards in nine plays to the win.
Oct. 22: Notre Dame (9) 49, BYU 23 -- ND finally won a home game as Quinn threw for 467 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. Four of those went to Maurice Stovall, who caught 14 passes for 207 yards. Jeff Samardzija had 10 catches for 152 yards and two scores. The Irish avenged a 2004 loss at BYU.
Nov. 5: Notre Dame (8) 41, Tennessee 21 -- ND broke open a 20-20 tie after three quarters and won going away. Quinn threw for 295 yards and three TDs. Tom Zbikowski had a 78-yard punt return TD and a 33-yard interception return for a score.
Nov. 12: Notre Dame (7) 42, Navy 21 -- ND won for an NCAA-record 42nd straight time against the Midshipmen. Quinn hit for 284 yards and four TDs, including three to Stovall.
Nov. 19: Notre Dame (6) 34, Syracuse 10 -- Walker carried 26 times for 123 yards and a TD, while Quinn had 270 yards passing and two TDs. Quinn broke the ND career passing mark previously held by Ron Powlus in this game.
Nov. 26, at Stanford: Notre Dame (6) 38, Stanford 31 -- ND's BCS bid was hanging in the balance when the host Cardinal rallied from down nine to take a 31-30 lead with 1:46 left. But Quinn calmly led the Irish on a six-play, 80-yard drive that took just 51 seconds. Walker, who had 186 yards, capped it with his 6-yard TD run with just 55 seconds left … and, yes, the Irish were back on track to their $14 million BCS berth (whew).
* Depth Chart: Here is a look at the offensive and defensive depth charts for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Offense
WR 21 Maurice Stovall, 6-5, 222, Jr.
11 David Grimes, 6-0, 170, Fr.
LT 68 Ryan Harris, 6-5, 288, Jr.
77 Michael Turkovich, 6-6, 290, Fr.
LG 50 Dan Santucci, 6-4, 290, Sr.
79 Brian Mattes, 6-6, 285, Sr.
C 76 Bob Morton, 6-4, 290, Sr.
78 John Sullivan, 6-4, 298, Jr.
RG 74 Dan Stevenson, 6-6, 292, Sr.
62 Scott Raridon, 6-7, 304, Sr.
RT 73 Mark LeVoir, 6-7, 311, Sr.
72 Paul Duncan, 6-7, 292, Fr.
TE 88 Anthony Fasano, 6-5, 255, Sr.
89 John Carlson, 6-6, 254, Jr.
FL 83 Jeff Samardzija, 6-5, 216, Jr.
82 Matt Shelton, 6-0, 172, Sr.
QB 10 Brady Quinn, 6-4, 231, Jr.
14 David Wolke, 6-2, 196, So.
TB 3 Darius Walker, 5-10, 208, So.
26 Travis Thomas, 6-0, 215, Jr.
FB 44 Asaph Schwapp, 6-0, 250, Fr.
35 Ashley McConnell, 6-0, 247, Jr.
K 19 D.J. Fitzpatrick, 6-2, 206, Sr.
45 Carl Gioia, 5-11, 179, Jr.
Notre Dame Defense
DE 95 Victor Abiamiri, 6-4, 260, Jr.
94 Justin Brown, 6-3, 247, So.
DT 98 Trevor Laws, 6-1, 293, Jr.
90 Brian Beidatsch, 6-3, 294, Sr.
DT 66 Derek Landri, 6-3, 263, Sr.
57 Dwight Stephenson Jr., 6-2, 252, Jr.
DE 99 Ronald Talley, 6-4, 261, So.
or 94 Justin Brown, 6-3, 247, So.
WLB 39 Brandon Hoyte, 6-0, 236, Sr.
52 Joe Brockington, 6-1, 212, Jr.
MLB 46 Corey Mays, 6-1, 234, Sr.
41 Scott Smith, 6-3, 235, Fr.
ALB 40 Maurice Crum Jr., 6-0, 220, So.
48 Steve Quinn, 6-2, 215, Fr.
CB 22 Ambrose Wooden, 5-11, 197, Jr.
15 Leo Ferrine, 6-0, 186, So.
FS 18 Chinedum Ndukwe, 6-2, 219, Jr.
27 David Bruton, 6-2, 187, Fr.
SS 9 Tom Zbikowski, 6-0, 208, Jr.
28 Kyle McCarthy, 6-0, 189, Fr.
CB 30 Mike Richardson, 5-11, 193, Sr.
20 Terrail Lambert, 5-11, 188, So.
P 19 D.J. Fitzpatrick, 6-2, 206, Sr.
LS 61 J.J. Jansen, 6-3, 242, So.
Breaking It Down
* When Ohio State Has The Ball: The key for Ohio State, to me, will be holding the football. Jim Tressel will want to keep the ball away from Notre Dame. The best way to do that is for Ohio State to establish the run with Antonio Pittman and, likely, QB Troy Smith. Notre Dame did a decent job stopping the run during the regular season (25th nationally at 119.4 yards per game), although you wonder if that was a function of how the ND offense put teams behind early and they had to throw to try and keep up. But ND has some quick linebackers who will fill holes quickly and mitigate any potential big gainers. If Pittman can approach 100 yards – as he got close against Michigan – that could be a huge factor in this game.
Turnovers and field position will be critical factors in a game of this magnitude, particularly one with two evenly matched teams. I don't think Tressel will believe a 30-pass attempt game will be in OSU's best interest. As was the case for much of this year, Tressel will be looking for high economy in the passing game (i.e. a decent average per pass attempt). So I imagine, the Buckeyes will pick and choose their spots where Smith will test the ND secondary with intermediate and longer attempts to Santonio Holmes (Is this his swan song?), Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.
Notre Dame was 97th nationally against the pass (257.6 yards per game). It is my guess that OSU will try and establish the run early, throw over the top when possible and then likely settle into a nice underneath game that will keep the chain gang humming all night. That would be almost a perfect scenario.
* When Notre Dame Has The Ball: Conversely, Notre Dame figures to also try and establish the run with its big, veteran offensive line and tailback Darius Walker. But teams have tried and tried that formula and found little success in recent years (see McGahee, Willis; Sproles, Darren; Hart, Michael; Morency, Vernand and so on). Minnesota's Laurence Maroney dinged OSU for 127 yards, but he only had 13 of those yards in the second half.
With A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Donte Whitner running down ball carriers and the front holding up its end of the bargain, I can't see Notre Dame netting a lot of yardage on the ground. And, moreover, I doubt a pragmatist the likes of Charlie Weis will even bother trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
So it comes down to this: Can Brady Quinn and his two star receivers, Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija, move the chains by throwing over the top all day on Ohio State? Weis certainly has a copy of the Minnesota tape, where Bryan Cupito riddled OSU for 396 yards. Yes, it was one blip on the radar screen, but I imagine Weis believes his big guys Stovall and Samardzija can outleap OSU's defenders. It make take 1-1/2 defenders to make plays on such passes (i.e. a corner to jump with the receiver and a hard hitting safety like Whitner or Nate Salley to converge at the last second to help break it up).
Pittman would be one barometer for Ohio State – if he reaches 100 yards. Likewise, if you see Quinn, who is ND's career leading passer in every meaningful category, get into a rhythm and approach 300 or more yards, look out below. A huge key there will be the pass rush. If Bobby Carpenter can't go, the Buckeyes will need to "scheme up" a new way to bring the heat. (Then again, Carpenter did not have a sack in the final five games after registering four against Michigan State.)
The guess is the Buckeyes will be in the nickel a good portion of the day, limiting freshman LB James Laurinaitis' exposure if he has to stand in for Carpenter. Let's face it, the ends, the corners and safeties need to have a big day – or this could be a Minnesota-style shootout all over again.
* How It Will Go: We are all tempted to dismiss Notre Dame and say, "They don't match up." True, on paper, it seems that Ohio State has some definite talent advantages. But I would submit that Quinn helps them close the gap. He made some real progress playing for Weis this year. If he gets hot, it could be a long night for the Buckeyes (just ask Pitt, Purdue and Stanford, among others).
The teams are, at least offensively, almost mirror images of one another. They each earned a hard fought win at Michigan, the signature triumph for each school in this match-up. Notre Dame lost by three at home to No. 1 USC, while Ohio State lost by three at home to No. 2 Texas.
The difference, of course, is on defense, where OSU ranks fourth nationally and ND is a distant 64th. The one thing I can't get out of my head is how Stanford managed just three points against its rival, Cal, then nearly pulled off an upset against ND, torching the Irish for 31 points just seven days later.
I think this game also comes down to special teams and field position. The Irish have punt return man extraordinaire Tom Zbikowski. But OSU has Ginn and Holmes handling returns, A.J. Trapasso punting and Josh Huston kicking field goals and kicking off. If, like the Minnesota game, Huston can drill some touchbacks, the vaunted ND offense would need to drive 80 yards. That's easier said than done against OSU – even with a genius the likes of Weis pulling all of the strings.
This should be a great college football game, probably tied or close to it after three quarters. But I just think Ohio State will do something big early in the fourth quarter to grab a hold of this thing and will hang on for dear life.
I don't know how I did this, but I arrived at the same score I picked for the Michigan game. Maybe I am stuck in a rut or something. But, I've got it: Ohio State 34-24
* For The Record: I was 9-2 straight-up and 7-4 against-the-spread with Ohio State during the regular season. (As of Tuesday, OSU was listed as a 4-1/2 point favorite over ND.)
-- Steve Helwagen