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Chris Dufresne ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Goodbye, Columbus?

September 14, 2008|Chris Dufresne

The mascot for Ohio State is no longer Brutus Buckeye.

It's Brutus Blackeye.

How many times must we book a plane or, in this case, gas up the car, to chronicle this?

Thanks for coming; Ohio State Buckeyes, good luck in the Big Ten (you'll probably win it), and in the Bowl Championship Series standings (you've come back before from the abyss).

See you, probably, in the Rose Bowl and maybe, Woody forbid, back in the title game.

Counting out Ohio State in a season-long rankings race, even after Saturday night's 35-3 loss to USC on Saturday night, is like counting out a cockroach to survive.

The Buckeyes couldn't low-tail it back to Columbus fast enough.

Ohio State has now suffered, effectively, its third straight humiliating defeat to a Southeastern Conference school.

USC, technically, is a member of the Pacific 10 but may want to enter the conference's witness protection on a weekend when Pac-10 schools lost by scores of 59-0 (UCLA to Brigham Young), 45-17 (Washington State to Baylor), 31-14 (Stanford to Texas Christian) and 55-14 (Washington to Oklahoma).

California lost to a Maryland team coming off a loss to Middle Tennessee State.

USC is a quasi-SEC surrogate, the only school from the West people from the South can identify in a helmet lineup.

Really, it's all the same to Ohio State.

Two years ago, Florida handed it to No. 1 Ohio State in the national title game outside Phoenix.

Last year, two-loss Louisiana State put the hammer down on No. 1 in the national title game in New Orleans.

At the Coliseum, in front of another big crowd, on national television, USC did the dishonors.

"I hate to say it," Buckeyes right guard Ben Person said, appropriately enough, standing next to an ambulance in the clustered Coliseum tunnel, "that's just how it's been the last two years in big games."

Someday Ohio State will put together a team that can compete with the SEC plus USC.

But it wasn't Saturday.

The future of Ohio State football, though, actually looks better than the present.

Terrelle Pryor, a freshman quarterback who shows Vince Young-at-Texas qualities, got his first taste of big league action, sharing the quarterback spot with senior Todd Boeckman.

Pryor finished with 40 yards in 11 carries in a quarterback rotation shuffle system that could spark a larger controversy.

"I think it kind of shocked everybody," Person said, adding, "if it's best for the team, it's best for the team."

Let's cut Ohio State as much slack as humanly possible in a game that was seen by human eyes.

The game might have been different had the Buckeyes' Chris Wells, a formidable power runner, not missed the game because of a foot injury.

It was clear, early on, that Ohio State's only hope was to ball-control the game into the fourth quarter.

The Buckeyes had the right idea on their second drive, which consumed 17 plays and nearly nine minutes, but they got only a field goal.

Ohio State had another chance to cut the lead to 14-10 in the second quarter, but a holding penalty nullified a touchdown and ultimately led to a 46-yard missed field goal.

"Had we got it to 14-10, it would not have ended up 35-3," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said. "I don't know what would have happened."

After that, in the flip of a switch, the lights went out. Rey Maualuga stepped in front of Boeckman pass and returned the interception 48 yards for a touchdown.

That made it 21-3.

"You can't have turnovers," Tressel said, "let alone turnovers for touchdowns."

In the second half, a sack and fumble here led to a USC touchdown there, and the game got away.

Now, the aftermath.

No. 1 USC emerges as the clear-cut best team in the nation -- it's not even close, Georgia.

No. 5 Ohio State probably needed to keep the game close to stay in national title contention, and how far the Buckeyes fall in the polls will determine their chances of a major comeback.

This game won't be forgotten by viewers and voters, but it's also only September.

Ohio State dropped to No. 7 after a home defeat to Illinois in November last year and climbed back to No. 1.

Nothing is impossible in the BCS, but you'd like to say some things are improbable.

"It's only the third game of the season, we still have nine games to go," Buckeyes safety Kurt Coleman said. "We'll try to win the Big Ten. That's what we look forward to now."

You never know about USC, either. As unbeatable as the Trojans looked, they've also botched national title chances the last two years by losing conference games to inferior opponents.

There's a decent chance USC and Ohio State could meet again in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Ohio State, with Beanie back and Pryor in the mix, might be new and improved.

As for USC vs. Ohio State in the BCS title game?

Well, that one may be left for the Columbus Dream Team.

"We're not going to rule that out," Coleman said. Right now we've got to focus on Troy."

Better luck with that Troy.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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