In 1985, he put on Ohio State's away white jersey and stepped onto the field in Pasadena to face the Trojans in the Rose Bowl. By the time he finished with Rose Bowl records of nine catches for 172 yards and a touchdown in OSU's 20-17 loss, Carter had shown USC what he could do – and previewed what he would do on the way to a probable NFL Hall of Fame career and the second-most receptions in league history.
Not surprisingly, Carter has a solid respect for the Trojans, who face his college squad Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Los Angeles Coliseum as the No. 1-ranked team in the country in college football's nonconference game of the year.
"I think that Ohio State has a great deal of respect for USC football back in the '60s and the '70s," he said. "They did go through a little dip, but Pete Carroll and what he's done there is truly amazing the last seven or eight years. They truly are a powerhouse."
Likewise, his doppelganger, former Trojan wideout and fellow ESPN personality Keyshawn Johnson, has similar things to say about Ohio State.
"Ohio State along with Michigan for a number of years have dominated the Big Ten Conference," Johnson said. "Now Ohio State is clearly pulling away from the Michigans of old and they're kind of standing on an island by themselves."
With the high levels of each program in mind, it's easy to see why Saturday's game is so eagerly anticipated. On a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Carter and Johnson discussed just why the game holds so much importance.
"I think it's a huge opportunity for Ohio State in regards to what people say," said Carter, who wore the scarlet and gray from 1984-86 and finished second all-time in receptions with 168. "It's very, very critical that they show well. They haven't done well in the last two national championship games, so it's important not only for the program as far as this year to get into the national championship but I think also in their national recruiting."
Johnson, who lettered in 1994 and '95 at USC and led the Trojans to a 1996 Rose Bowl win thanks to a season in which he caught 102 passes for 1,434 yards, said the game is equally important to USC's fortunes.
"For them, it's obviously going to be one of those situations where they have to win this football game to continue to move toward their goal of winning another national championship," Johnson said of his school that already claims 12 crowns. "Teams like Ohio State that come into the Pac-10 Conference – a highly visible college with a very good football program – you get a lot of points for beating a team like that."
Ohio State is coming off of a 26-14 win over Ohio University that did not overwhelm observers, while USC's only game thus far was a 52-7 shellacking of Virginia during the season's opening weekend. Some national pundits have surmised that OSU, because of its slow start, will have a hard time keeping up with the Trojans, and the point spread for the game hovers around 10 points.
However, Carter said not to use the Buckeyes' struggles against the Bobcats as a predictive tool.
"As a player, you always like to play well, but you realize sometimes you don't bring it together," Carter said. "I think there was a lack of a little bit of focus (against OU). From the time the USC game has been on the schedule, I know everyone in Ohio was talking about playing USC. If you think the kids from Ohio State weren't looking ahead to going to L.A. and playing in the Coliseum against USC compared to playing against Ohio University, I think you're fooling yourself."
Ohio State started the year ranked below USC in the Associated Press poll, with the Buckeyes holding second and USC third. However, USC has shot up to No. 1 while the Buckeyes have dropped to No. 5, but those are not facts that concern Carter when it comes to the status of his alma mater.
"I know they're not concerned because if they win all of their games, they'll be No. 1," he said. "I could care less (about OSU being dropped in the polls). If they win all of their games, I know what will happen."
Johnson wasn't above getting some ribbing in on his friend Carter. When discussing Ohio State's tough game against OU, Carter stated, "I think the team you'll see Saturday night will be totally different from that team."
Carter, whose son Duron is a verbally committed member of Ohio State's class of 2009, paused to laugh before adding, "I hope so."
Johnson quickly replied, "You sure better hope so, buddy."