Jim Tressel sees a lot of his team in the one that will line the opposing sideline in the Louisiana Superdome Jan. 7 for the Bowl Championship Series championship game.
That team, head coach Les Miles' LSU Tigers, had to regroup from a physical, emotional loss at home to unranked Arkansas Nov. 23 in time to make a worthy showing in the Southeastern Conference championship game eight days later.
Despite missing their regular starting quarterback and with their best defensive player hobbling badly, the Tigers rallied to beat Tennessee 21-14 to take home the SEC title. The win kept alive LSU's faint hopes of a berth in the national championship game.
Sucking up one's guts for a final, championship-caliber push fit a script Tressel himself saw play out from Nov. 10-17.
Ohio State was left with no time to lick its wounds because up next was archrival Michigan, and the conference title would be on the line.
The Buckeyes responded by gutting out a 14-3 win with a rugged running game and unyielding defense. Though they seemed one of the longer shots out there, the Buckeyes, too, kept the national championship game in the back of their minds.
Now in a goofy year in which no one quite seemed to know how to deal with prosperity, the two teams that held the top spot in the BCS standings for seven of the eight weeks it was released will play for the national title, both thanks not only to some fortunate losses by other teams but also their own intestinal fortitude.
Tressel said often throughout the year that everyone who lines up against Ohio State gives the Buckeyes their best shot, regardless of the quality of the opponent.
Sunday night he told reporters on a national teleconference that through a few quirks in the schedule – if the Buckeyes were playing in the afternoon it seemed to the OSU coach that the Tigers were teeing it up at night or vice versa – he was able to recognize the same phenomenon in LSU's games, what with the Tigers beginning the season so highly ranked.
"We were so impressed they could have a game like that with Arkansas and come back emotionally and win the SEC title," Tressel said. "That's why with my ballot, there was no question about it. I was going to be selfish about it and put Ohio State up there but I was also going to make sure that the teams that impressed us would be up there, and LSU certainly did that."
Meanwhile, Tressel's team followed a different arc through the season, rising from outside the preseason top 10 to a spot at the top of the rankings, but it had its own No. 1 target on its back by the time November rolled around.
"We faced a good Illinois team later in the year and they beat us," Tressel said. "We needed to regroup and get ready to play our rival away from home and a lot like LSU was able to regroup from a disappointment I think Ohio State was able to do the same thing.
"So I think you're seeing two teams that have a lot of character about them and I think you'll enjoy this matchup."
Speaking on a different teleconference, BCS chairman and SEC commissioner Mike Slive felt the matchup was fitting as well.
"The brass ring was there for a lot of different people to grab: Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't," Slive said. "When they didn't, it allowed two teams that early on in the polls were seen to be two of the better teams in the country to find their way back because some of the teams just couldn't grab the brass ring when they needed to grab it."
Ohio State will face LSU in football for the third time in history, and for the second year in a row Ohio State will face a championship game opponent coached by an Ohio native.
The Buckeyes went to Baton Rouge and forged a 13-13 tie in 1987 and knocked off the Tigers in Columbus one year later, 36-33.
Miles has faced them as a player and as an assistant coach and Jan. 7 will mark the second time he leads a team against the Buckeyes as a head coach.
He lettered for Bo Schembechler at Michigan in 1974 and '75, years that saw Ohio State prevail 12-10 then 21-14, in Columbus and Ann Arbor, respectively.
Miles then spent 10 years spread over two different stints as an assistant coach at his alma mater, first from 1980-81 then from '87-94. In that time, Ohio State went 3-6-1 against the Wolverines.
Between Miles' time in Ann Arbor, he spent five years as an assistant at Colorado, including 1984, when Ohio State beat the Buffaloes 36-13 and '85, when the Buckeyes prevailed 13-10.
Finally, Miles' last game as head coach at Oklahoma State was a 33-7 shellacking at the hands of Jim Tressel's Buckeyes in the 2004 Alamo Bowl.
"I can tell you that the Ohio State team is a tremendous opponent," Miles said. "I was brought up on that rivalry as I grew up in Ohio and then attended Michigan, so I have great respect for Ohio State, great respect for their players and coaches. They're a very fine football team and it will call us to compete, I promise you."