Starting Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski admitted, "I would definitely love to see more games with Ohio State. They are a perennial powerhouse in the Big Ten. We play Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all the time. It would be fun to add Ohio State."
Why don't they play? Well, there are several theories, but nobody can definitively say. The bottom line is that this is a chance for bragging rights for both schools – the rubber match as they say. Tied 2-2 including a home and home series in the 1990's following a break of 60 years, this is a bonus of magnificent proportions for the fans of the two schools and college football in general. It's like paying through the nose to go on an African Safari and spotting half a dozen endangered species.
Ohio State's players are impressed by the opportunity.
"It's two storied programs with great tradition," said Mike Kudla. "The build-up for it … I can remember in the mid-90s when they were playing. I remember the build-up back home. It was huge. It means a lot to a lot of people. It's definitely a special one."
Nick Mangold echoed those sentiments; "It is definitely up there with a very rich tradition. Legends go through there and it's one of those mystical places. When I found out we were playing Notre Dame it was exciting. To be able to play Texas and Notre Dame all in one seaosn – some programs you never really get to play – it was exciting."
For their part, the Fighting Irish are just as much in awe.
Linebacker Brandon Hoyte spoke glowingly of the Buckeyes; "Whenever you bring two great tradition programs – I mean, growing up, Ohio State is one of those teams that you look at. They are one of those great teams. I think the opportunity to play them is excellent and maybe the fact of the matter that we don't play them much makes the game more exciting, (but) I think regardless of how many times we play them the game will always be magical."
Defensive end Victor Abiamiri admitted he was more than a little excited, "It is a big game to us and it's a big game to them too. I think it is a testament to our two programs. Two perennial powers in the Midwest get together to play our bowl game. It's a really huge game and will be real good for college football. I don't know why we don't play them more. I think it would be good for us to play against each other in the regular season."
After all is said and done, perhaps that's the reason these two do not meet. To do so would probably mean a round robin double elimination tournament for the traditional Midwestern powers' national title consideration. Ohio State and Michigan would present the Irish would two hurdles instead of only one early in the year. Meanwhile the Buckeyes and Wolverines don't need another headache schedule with tradition filled, 700-plus victory programs. They already have Penn State in their conference and routinely schedule stiff non-conference foes like Oregon and Texas. Toss in Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin and their hands are plenty full.
So, the respective athletic departments are more interested in finding another easier victory to offset possible losses. Alumni enjoy seeing their team thumping a creampuff instead of being choked by a bite of steak just a little too large to handle.
Do the players think the same way?
Not a chance.
"You always love to dominate, but this is kind of the reason you come to a school like Notre Dame – to play in these kinds of games," said ND's Darius Walker. "To play the USC's, the Ohio State's, the Michigan's. This is why we play football. To play in the big games and prove to the world we are one of the best teams in the country."
Ohio State Wideouts Soft?
With a Notre Dame secondary that has given up several large plays this season facing a tough Buckeye wideout group, what exactly is their plan?
Zbikowski opined, "I think we match up well. They have pretty much four threats that could be number ones at pretty much any other school, but it's tough to see what they are going to come out and do. Against Michigan they came out and ran a lot of empty sets and open backfield, but then they also will run two men in the backfield with power football. We have to be ready for anything. They have a tough receiver corps with a lot of speed. We're going to try and be physical in this game."
"With Ginn and Holmes we have to be physical I think. They have too much speed for pretty much anyone in the country. You just have to be physical with them at the line of scrimmage and mess up their timing."
The question is – does this work? Will this work? Is this the best option considering the risk for pass interference or holding penalties?
"Yeah. Teams that are physical and mess up their timing are successful. Teams that try to play man to man are a little off. They get burnt; there's too much speed on their team."
The last team to get ‘physical' with the Ohio State wideouts took the Buckeyes to double overtime in one of the greatest games in college football history. If Zbikowski gets his way this one could be another ESPN ‘Instant Classic' but not one Ohio State fans would enjoy viewing.
Smith – ‘It's not Easy'
Where is the Staples Easy button when you need it?
Most couch potatoes have one when it comes to their football team. If the quarterback misses a receiver then an expletive or two aimed at the television relieves tension. When a defender whiffs on a critical tackle they explode with a few loud shouts. One scared dog later and they settle down again to watch the rest of the game sipping their beverage and eating a handful of chips. Heaven forbid but an interception or fumble to lose the game. It's time for that trip to Best Buy for a new remote control because after flying into a wall; it – like Humpty Dumpty, can't be put back together again.
However, watching and doing are two entirely different matters even though the game itself sounds fairly mundane. One might even say it sounds simple.
When pressed about the lack of execution this year on hanging onto the football and how to correct it Troy Smith replied, "We don't think or talk about things like that. What happened happened. Hold onto the ball. Don't throw interceptions."
Thus it should come as no surprise that when asked what Ohio State's offense needs to do he replied, "Execute and play within ourselves. The game plan has been set out and laid out. Play within the game plan. Don't try to do too much. Take what they give us. Assert ourselves in the run game. We should be ok."
Hold onto the ball. Don't throw interceptions. Stay within the game plan? Don't try to do too much? Should be ok?
Again, it all sounds simple. It sounds like something even a kindergartner could grasp.
"Yeah it does," Smith nodded in agreement. "The game in general sounds simple. Just score points. Throw the ball deep to Ted because he is fast. Don't let the guy tackle you. Keep throwing to Santonio because he has some of the best hands in the nation. It sounds simple until you get out there and the guy is not where he is supposed to be. Then you have to adjust, you have to move."
Ah, reality. Don't you hate it when it rears its ugly head?
Still, now is not the time for facts. Now is the opportunity for finding that easy button again. Notre Dame and Ohio State fans need to have it handy for Monday evening.