"I always get into arguments with college players around the country - at USC or Florida or Texas, wherever - about Ohio high school football. I take a lot of pride in the Ohio high school football coaches, the toughness, the skill that I think is sometimes undervalued when you get into some arguments with other states, so that's when I came up with this idea: Let's take Ohio against some of the best teams in the country and bring them into the Buckeye state every year and find out how our athletes compete with some of the best athletes and the best programs."
The Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic, as it is now known, has evolved in five years into a showcase of not only interstate competition but also local grudge matches.
"When I go back to when this thing started, not only is it about bragging rights for the state of Ohio against the rest of the country, the other thing is what high school football represents to me," Herbstreit said. "More and more, there are so many distractions for kids and getting involved with high school football is something that changed my life for the better. The discipline that you learn, the work ethic, the perseverance and the camaraderie, these are things you can gain from being around a good high school football program."
For the second year in a row, games will be played at Ohio Stadium beginning at noon Sept. 5 when local programs Dublin Coffman and Westerville South square off. Later that afternoon, two of Ohio's top prospects will face off when quarterback Braxton Miller and Huber Heights Wayne take on defensive end Steve Miller and Canton McKinley. Both games are to be telecast by ESPNU.
A day later, interstate pride will be on the line when Cleveland Glenville faces Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) William T. Dwyer at noon on ESPN. Afterward, ESPNU will broadcast a matchup between Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Frommel Smith and Pickerington (Ohio) Central.
"I think moving it here to the Horseshoe has been really good for it because obviously this is a landmark, not just as a college stadium but any kind of stadium," Herbstreit said. "To have a chance for coaches and players to come in and compete at a very high level with great exposure I think is a good fit."
Though the purpose of the day was to talk high school football, Ohio State inevitably became a topic as well.
Herbstreit sees the sky as the limit for his college alma mater this season.
"This team physically has everything that they need to make a run, to have a great year, win a Big Ten Championship, be in the race for a national championship," said Herbstreit, who voted the Buckeyes No. 2 behind Alabama on his Associated Press poll ballot. "But there are things that are unforeseen right now. The chemistry, how they come together, how they deal with adversity throughout this year and stay healthy. If they can do all those things, physically on paper, try to tell me a team that has more talent than Ohio State. I really don't see anybody out there. So the talent is there, challenging schedule, now it is just about are the intangibles coming together and staying healthy and making a magical run."
"In my opinion they're going to be physically able to overmatch nine of the teams they play right now," he said.
Based on chatter from local talk shows, he said fans might be underestimating the challenge to be posed by Miami when the Hurricanes visit Sept. 11.
With a young lineup, they have had their ups and downs of late, but Herbstreit said to be wary.
"Those kids now, a lot of them are juniors and redshirt sophomores and they have gone through a lot of growing pains," Herbstreit said. "This is the same team that had a big win early last year and they jumped up to fifth or sixth in the polls.(Quarterback) Jacory Harris was going to win the Heisman, then the next week they lose to Virginia Tech and then it was like ‘Oh, they're terrible. Forget about them.'
"I think you have to be very careful in jumping to conclusions and assuming Miami is going to come in here intimidated. Just to give you Miami's perspective, they're circling the wagons and saying this is overtime number three from 2002. Their fan base is, anyway, looking for revenge from that national championship. Miami is not a pushover and not a given. Then you have the two trips, one at Iowa and one at Wisconsin, where they are going to be physically going up against teams that are very similar to them. They may not have the skill overall top to bottom that Ohio State has, but it is going to be a challenge. It is on the road in two of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten, so those three are the toughest."
Outside of that, the Buckeyes would need to overlook an opponent to lose, as they are widely believed to have done in the case of a 26-18 loss to Purdue last season.
"That's the biggest danger to me for Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Texas - all these powerhouses," Herbstreit said. "That is their biggest danger: Letting their guard down and letting one of these teams that quote, unquote have lesser talent play their Super Bowl that day and try and shock the world and ruin their season. That is the danger to elite program."