Ten Pressing Questions: OSU vs. Notre Dame

We provide our Ten Pressing Questions on today's match-up between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (5 p.m., ABC). One of those involves OSU wide receiver Santonio Holmes, pictured after scoring a touchdown against Kansas State in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Click this free link for a look at today's game and more notables.

As we all count down the hours until kickoff for today's Fiesta Bowl between No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame (5 p.m. Eastern, ABC), I came up with my usual game day theme, Ten Pressing Questions, to think about what we may look for during today's big game.

As always, I'll come back in a day or two with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered during my Sunday Morning Quarterback column.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. How big is this game, really? -- This is just the fifth meeting ever between these two tradition rich college football powers who are located just 280 miles apart. The all-time series is tied 2-2. This would be the rubber match and, with no future games in the pipeline for at least the next decade. So there are some major bragging rights at stake.

And, with ND coach Charlie Weis coming into Ohio to try and recruit players, Ohio State needs to nip this new threat in the bud. The best way to do that is to beat the Irish decisively on the football field in a game everybody with even a passing interest in college football will be watching.

2. Which Troy Smith will show up? -- Smith, OSU's quarterback and leader on offense, got better and better all season, culminating in his 300-yard passing performance and two great late touchdown drives in the team's 25-21 win at Michigan.

Now, what can Smith do for an encore. He'll be throwing against the nation's 96th-best passing offense and that helps. But he and his receivers will have to make the plays and stay away from the costly turnover.

3. Can Antonio Pittman approach or eclipse the 100-yard mark? -- Pittman will move over the 1,200-yard mark for the year today. He did not have 100 yards against Michigan, but he didn't need to. As Smith reminded us, 1 yard in that game is worth 2. So, when Pittman finished The Game with 85 yards on 23 carries, it was actually the equivalent of 170 yards.

The same premise applies today as the Buckeyes need Pittman to again step up against ND's stingy run defense and help OSU keep the ball away from ND's high powered offense.

4. Can Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. get loose and make a big play on offense or special teams? -- The 1995 OSU-ND game hinged on Terry Glenn's long catch-and-run. A year later, Dimitrious Stanley's 85-yard kick return to open the game set the tone for another OSU win.

If Holmes, who could be playing his final game as a Buckeye, or Ginn, can break free to make a game changing play, that could be the difference in a game of this magnitude.

5. Will Ohio State be able to hold its own against Notre Dame's running game? ND's Darius Walker was also an 1,100-yard rusher this past year. The ND offensive line is big and experienced, and you know that they will try and establish the run.

But we have seen teams try and fail at that idea over and over through the years. Ask Miami's Willis McGahee, Kansas State's Darren Sproles, Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency, Michigan's Michael Hart and so on. The line at the end of the day will probably look about the same – 20 carries, 80 yards … and a loss.

6. Can the Buckeyes contain Brady Quinn? -- Quinn threw for over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns during the regular season. As a Dublin native, you know this is the one game above all he would like to win. OSU will have to come after him and pressure him, something the Buckeyes have done with mixed results throughout the year.

Quinn will take what the Buckeyes give him, so that means he will likely try and dink his way down the field and take his shots after they have been set up.

7. Can the OSU defense get off the field on third down? -- For the year, Notre Dame has converted 50 percent of its third and fourth downs. That's a pretty heady percentage. Weis, a noted offensive guru (just ask him), has a big bag of tricks to go to. He loves to run reverses, draws and backside screens when the Irish are behind in down-and-distance.

It will be incumbent on Ohio State to play sound assignment football on the money downs and get off the field. If the Buckeyes allow ND to sustain drives, it will be a long afternoon.

8. Will a turnover or several of them shape this game? -- This series has been predicated on which team made the costly error. In 1935, an OSU fumble led to ND's game winning touchdown in an 18-13 win in Columbus. In 1995, ND's Ron Powlus threw a pick and lost a fumble and the Irish also fumbled a punt. All three mistakes led to OSU touchdowns in a 45-26 win. Finally, in 1996 (a 29-16 OSU win) Powlus threw two costly picks.

This game could come down to one possession – possibly a touchdown scored on a short field.

9. What factor will Josh Huston be? -- Huston needs to come up big with any field goal kicks and also by putting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks. OSU needs to win the field position battle and Huston could be the secret weapon in that battle.

10. Can the Buckeyes pull off what would be a gigantic win in a BCS game? -- Notre Dame has been all business – almost to the point where you think the Irish might be a bit tight. After all, ND has lost its last seven bowl games. OSU does not want to be the team that snaps that string.

Conversely, OSU is 3-1 in bowl games with three straight wins under Tressel. And the Buckeyes can be the first college football team to four BCS wins with a victory over ND today. Those are some heavy stakes, but I think the Buckeyes are up for the challenge.

And a Bonus Question: Will Bobby Carpenter play? -- No, it does not seem that Carpenter will play in the scheme of the defense. However, I think there is one way he could find his way on the field – as the safety man in OSU's Victory formation if it comes down to that. That would be a fitting conclusion to what has been another great season of Ohio State football.

This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you will have today, so enjoy it. We will see you on the other side.

Fiesta Bowl Previews

Here is our Game Data page with depth charts, pertinent info and a prediction:

Game Data: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

And here is the story archive of the 30-plus articles we have posted in the last 10 days on this OSU-ND match-up.

Story Archive Bucknuts.com

All-American Bowl Coverage

As a reminder, the focus shifts to the U.S. All-American Bowl coverage we will have the rest of the week.

Already, we have had stories on East coach Ted Ginn Sr. and OSU verbals Chris Wells and Connor Smith (listed in archive above). Gary Housteau will have exclusive coverage from San Antonio on Bucknuts.com.

You can also bookmark the Scout.com All-American Bowl home page, linked below. It will have a ton of stories on juniors and seniors this week.

U.S. Army All-American Bowl home page

Pregame Shows

Be sure to watch Buckeye Football Fever on WSYX-TV (Ch. 6) in Columbus and WKEF-TV (Ch. 22) in Dayton at noon Eastern time. Also, Fox Sports Net Ohio will air its fourth and final FSN Live at The Fiesta Bowl show today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

And Buckeye Football Fever will shift to Columbus' WTTE-TV (Ch. 28) at 10 p.m. Eastern for a postgame show.

I am scheduled to appear on all three of those shows.


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