A look at the Scout.com rankings shows a serious talent discrepancy between the 2007 recruiting classes assembled by both teams. In a class of 15 players, the Buckeyes had just one five-star prospect: safety Eugene Clifford, who is no longer with the program.
In contrast, the 18-man class assembled by USC head coach Pete Carroll boasted 10 five-star prospects. Of those 10, six are in the two-deep for the OSU game with a few notable exceptions.
Wide receiver/returner Ronald Johnson is inactive for the game due to injury. Tailback Marc Tyler is second on the team with 72 rushing yards on five attempts but is technically not in the two-deep at the running back spot.
Nose tackle DeJohn Harris and right guard Martin Coleman are third on the depth chart at their respective positions behind upperclassmen.
OSU's class that season ranked 16th in the country, while the Trojans took second billing behind Florida. However, the Buckeyes are not hurting for contributors from their class of 2007.
Brian Rolle, Cameron Heyward, Jermale Hines, Dane Sanzenbacher and Dan Herron all started the Navy game, while Devon Torrence, Brandon Saine and Taurian Washington are in the two-deep. In addition, Solomon Thomas is third on the depth chart behind Heyward and fifth-year senior Lawrence Wilson.
Since then, the Buckeyes have closed the recruiting gap with the Trojans. OSU's last two recruiting classes have been ranked fourth and first, respectively, in the country. USC has finished ninth in each of the last two seasons. In all, the Trojans have eight projected starters who were five-star recruits – not including tailback Stafon Johnson, who is listed as a possible starter alongside Joe McKnight – while the Buckeyes have four, one of whom was initially a Michigan Wolverine in Justin Boren.
It adds up to a picture where the Trojans might have more experienced talent, but the Buckeyes have better young players on their roster. Add that to the list of storylines to follow when the lights go on at Ohio Stadium.
The Poets Know It: In an effort to get his team prepared mentally for the USC game, OSU head coach Jim Tressel took an interesting approach.
He read his players a poem.
Past years have seen Tressel play up different facets of the game in an effort to inspire his charges to play harder. This year, he literally took a page from his own book "The Winner's Manual" and helped put the focus back on his own team.
"I don't even know if it necessarily rhymed, but it was pretty strong words," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "I don't think there's too much outside motivation that we need. I think that's the way the coaches are looking at it this year. That's probably the way it is because it's good enough for us that we know what happened last year, as far as I'm concerned."
The poem was read by Tressel during a period of reflection and mental preparation prior to a practice early in the week.
Junior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said he is not a poetry kind of guy but added that he enjoyed the poem.
"I remember it was written by somebody who experienced a defeat," he said. "It was just basically saying to learn from your mistakes. You learn from a loss and get better for the next one."
Kicker Aaron Pettrey said that has been the only literal reminder of last year's 35-3 road loss to the Trojans.
OL Looking For Improvement: Ohio State might have won its season opener against Navy, but the team's offensive line can not make the same claim.
After the coaching staff broke down the game film, the final result was that just one offensive lineman graded out with a winning performance: Boren, who brought home the team's Jim Parker offensive lineman of the week award.
For that, there were a number of factors to blame – starting with the fact that they just didn't play very well.
And that started with senior Jim Cordle, who was making his first career start at right tackle after having played center and left guard already during his OSU career.
"I had a bunch of poor technique grades, which is a combination of playing a new spot but it was a lot more the first game you just want to fire out and hit somebody," he said. "My footwork was all messed up and things like that. That was the focus this week, just settling in and playing with technique and trying to do my job."
Those observations spilled over to the rest of the offensive line, he said.
"As a unit, we were just screwing most of the plays up and not blocking the right guys and getting confused with the defense, which is a combination of first game and playing that defense," Cordle said. "We definitely just lacked technique and were more worried about just playing. Now we've got to focus on technique for this week."
Offensive line coach Jim Bollman said the mistakes made against the Midshipmen are correctable within the timeframe of a week.
"Have you heard the old cliché that a lot of people always say early in the season before those first and second or second and third games is when you have the most marked improvement in things?" Bollman said. "Those guys are working hard. They know they have enough experience to know what they need to improve."
Spitler Makes The Move: After having spent the last three seasons backing up all-American James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker, senior Austin Spitler is ready to step into a starting role this year at strong-side linebacker.
The 6-3, 234-pound linebacker was named a captain at the beginning of the season despite having amassed a total of 99 minutes of playing time primarily on special teams during his career.
Now that Laurinaitis is gone, however, Spitler finds himself in a new role. Junior weak-side linebacker Ross Homan said there is a good reason for the change.
"He's one of the strongest guys on our team," Homan said of Spitler. "At that position, you're primarily at the line of scrimmage taking on offensive tackles and tight ends. He's doing a great job with that trying to get leverage on the ball. He's done an excellent job so far."
That did not result in a lot of playing time in the first game of the season, however. Spitler recorded two tackles against Navy and was off the field whenever the Buckeyes utilized two linebackers in favor of Homan and junior Brian Rolle.
With sophomore Etienne Sabino backing him up, Spitler has competition for his job but also the confidence of his teammates.
Asked how much the Buckeyes have faith in Spitler's ability to make the play, Homan said, "One hundred percent. Austin is one of the hardest workers in the film room, in the weight room. He's one of the strongest guys on the team. He gives 100 percent for this team and everyone knows that. That's why he's one of the captains."
Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said Rolle is at middle linebacker and Spitler at the strong side because their situations could not be reversed.
"All the guys who have played Sam backer for us are in that mold where they can play over a tight end," Heacock said. "Brian Rolle can't play over a tight end. He can play inside where we can cover him up. I'd probably be sued if I put him over a 6-6, 300-pound tight end."
Buchanan Still Kicking Around: Pettrey knows a thing or two about being in Ben Buchanan's shoes.
The redshirt freshman specialist is backing up both Pettrey and senior punter Jon Thoma, although he is the primary backup for Thoma. During his ascension to the top of the depth chart, Pettrey had to often sit back while Ryan Pretorius – one year his senior – held down the job.
Pettrey redshirted as a freshman and won the job the following year, only to lose it as a sophomore partly due to injury. He then split time with Pretorius last season.
"I definitely think it's tough for him," Pettrey said of Buchanan. "I remember when I didn't get to play my sophomore year due to Ryan playing. I know it was tough on me and I'm sure it's tough on him because everyone who comes here wants to play. He'll get his chance and I know he'll do well."
The stress is not affecting Buchanan's work, Pettrey said.
"He's been punting really well," Pettrey said. "He's kept a positive attitude. He's just trying to do whatever he can to get on the field right now. He's doing a great job backing up Jon Thoma. I think he's doing a great job handling the backup position."
In other Pettrey-related news, the senior said he might have lost his focus a bit when he nailed an extra-point attempt off the goalposts against Navy.
"I felt like I was focused going out there but I definitely could've been a little more into it," he said. "I should've taken it like a big kick. Maybe I didn't, but I know what I did (wrong)."