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What's best for Ohio State and the Big Ten

9/14/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After Ohio State's hard-fought loss to USC on Saturday night, I asked Buckeyes sophomore wide receiver DeVier Posey what separates the Buckeyes from the Trojans.

"Not much," Posey replied.

Only three points on the scoreboard, 48 yards on the stat sheet and a handful of plays on the field separated the two teams Saturday night at Ohio Stadium. But on the national perception spectrum, USC and Ohio State remain about as far apart as L.A. and Columbus.

Whether it's fair or not, the storyline coming out of Saturday night stated that USC once again found a way to win a big game, while Ohio State once again found a way to lose one. USC looked like a vulnerable team for much of the game, burning timeouts, getting beat up at the line of scrimmage and failing to execute on pass plays. The Trojans showed their youth at times. They repeatedly left the door open for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes couldn't storm through it.

I simply can't get past this stat: Four Ohio State possessions started in USC territory, six points were scored. That's totally unacceptable in a game of such magnitude.

So where does Ohio State, and the Big Ten Conference, go from here?

The Buckeyes certainly didn't embarrass themselves or the league Saturday night. They had the nation's premier program on the ropes for much of the game. They played ferocious defense and reflected the principles their head coach cherishes most.

But they didn't get the win -- again. It was Ohio State's sixth straight loss against a top 5 team, and the second straight heartbreaker.

How long can the Big Ten wait for the Buckeyes to close the gap? Does the league want Ohio State carrying the banner again in January?

Right now, I don't see a BCS bowl champion in Ohio State. There are too many issues with Jim Tressel's offense. Whether it's Terrelle Pryor's inconsistency, the lack of a reliable run game, too many unproven receivers, an average line or a system that might not fit the personnel, something isn't clicking with the unit.

I asked several long-time Ohio State observers this week to identify the last time this team hit on all cylinders. Most of them pointed to the 2006 regular season. That's a long time ago.

Ohio State should be an extremely good team in 2010, a legitimate national title contender. Almost all of the key pieces will be back, with another year of experience to boot.

The Buckeyes need to build some positive momentum this season. They need to see growth from Pryor in October and November. Most importantly, they need to win a bowl game.

That's why both Ohio State and the Big Ten would benefit from the Buckeyes heading to the Capital One Bowl this year. Having two teams in BCS bowls hasn't helped the league perception-wise at all the last three years. The Big Ten needs a year to build back its reputation -- these things don't just change overnight -- and having only one team in a BCS game would create more favorable bowl matchups throughout the postseason lineup.

Ohio State has to snap its big-game losing streak, and a Capital One Bowl appearance should do the trick. Some will scoff at that statement, but feel free to name the biggest win in recent Big Ten history. If you guessed Michigan over defending national champ Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, you get a prize.

Another team deserves a chance to carry the Big Ten banner in January.

Penn State blew its chance in the 2009 Rose Bowl, but the Nittany Lions boast a very impressive bowl record and scores of star players in key roles (Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, Evan Royster, Navorro Bowman). If the Lions stumble in the coming months, maybe a sleeper team emerges.

Ohio State obviously will aim for higher goals, and it should. But in the long run, a rematch with USC at the Rose Bowl might not be the best way to win the perception battle.