To OSU, USC's Name Value Enhances Matchup

College football has changed immensely over the decades, but one thing has stayed the same: a game between USC and Ohio State is a big deal. With this week's No. 1 vs. No. 5 showdown on deck, members of the Buckeye squad talked about their memories of USC and what it means to play against one of college football's glamour programs.

The common thought is that Saturday's clash between No. 1 USC and No. 5 Ohio State has been anticipated since the final down of the 2007 season back on Jan. 8 in New Orleans.

As it turns out, that's not quite true. Some people have been looking forward to the game for even longer than that.

Take James Laurinaitis, for example. With college football schedules set years in advance, teams often know who their opponents will be for the next few years down the road. So when Laurinaitis arrived at Ohio State as part of the class of 2005 recruiting class, he couldn't help but notice a marquee game that would be on the docket near the end of his Ohio State career.

"Oh man, people have known about this game," he said. "When I first got here, I knew I'd either be a redshirt junior or senior going out to the Coliseum."

Laurinaitis' excitement speaks volumes about the program USC has become. The Trojans are college football's glamour team, operating in the shadows of Tinseltown and welcoming celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell to games and practices.

Oh, and they win: since 2002, USC is 71-8.

"I think it starts with the great respect for the tremendous success that USC has had over the course of the last six or seven years," head coach Jim Tressel said. "If you think about the age of our players and you think back to when they really started paying close attention to college football, Southern California had to be one of the schools that they said, ‘Man, they're good.' "

Of course, for those with a memory longer than the past few years, USC wasn't always at the level it is now. The program fell on hard times during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Legendary coach John Robinson came back for his second stint in 1993, but after leading the team to the 1996 Rose Bowl, he posted a combined record of 12-11 over his last two years in 1996-97.

Next was Paul Hackett, who never lost fewer than five games in his three years from 1998-2000.

Enter Pete Carroll, and at the same time, enter another golden era for a team that has had enough to claim 12 national titles. Carroll started 1-4 but won five of the last seven games during his first season of 2001 before putting together that 71-8 stretch. During his tenure, USC has won two national titles, played for another and put together a famed 34-game winning streak from 2003-05.

Along the same lines, Ohio State has had similar success since Tressel was hired the same year. The Buckeyes are 68-11, have won a national title and played for two more since the 2002 season began.

Those corresponding runs of success have come during varying spans of the Ohio State players' lives. For the freshmen, 2002 would have been their seventh-grade year, while 24-year-old Todd Boeckman already had graduated high school.

"Since I've been watching football, USC and Ohio State, each year they produce pretty good teams," redshirt sophomore tackle Bryant Browning said. "It's a big game, big teams."

The fact is that meetings between the two schools have always been that way. Seven of the 21 matchups – USC holds a 11-9-1 series lead – between Ohio State and USC have come in the Rose Bowl, some of them featuring the greatest players in college football history. Rex Kern, Art Schlichter, Archie Griffin and Keith Byars have suited up against the Trojans in Pasadena; O.J. Simpson, Sam "Bam" Cunningham, Anthony Davis and Charles White have opposed the Buckeyes.

The games themselves have been some of the most important in the history of the two schools. Ohio State capped its 1968 national title season with a 27-16 win over USC. Three of Griffin's campaigns – 1972, '73 and '74 – ended in the Rose Bowl against USC, with Ohio State capturing the middle game to cap an undefeated season. The Buckeyes were denied an undefeated season in 1979, Earle Bruce's first year, when the Trojans won the 1980 Rose Bowl 17-16 on a late touchdown run by White.

"I think if you're from Ohio and my age, it kind of goes back to you grew up watching Rose Bowls, '68 to Archie's four in a row and Earle's first year and all that stuff," Tressel said. "So I think that makes that familiarity and that respect and, you know, when you mention Southern California Trojans, if you're from Ohio State, there's respect."

With Ohio State's scheduling policy of trying to take on intersectional opponents once a year, this game is the latest in a line of standout showdowns. The Buckeyes lined up against Texas in 2005 and '06 and have Miami, California, Tennessee and Virginia Tech on later dockets.

"I've just been blessed to play in a lot of games that people would dream about," Laurinaitis said. "We played Texas twice, and games like that – at Penn State, that is a place that's crazy.

"It's going to be another one of those games. The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. It's like playing the bowl game in September."


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