Game of the Week
One of those teams hasn't looked worthy of getting that chance this season, but could certainly change that on Saturday night by beating the other.
While the top-ranked Trojans are coming off a week of rest, the No. 5 Buckeyes are looking to show their most recent performance was just a fluke going into what is easily the most anticipated game of the young season.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made USC –10.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 79% of bets for this game have been placed on USC –10.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Two of the top programs in college football history - they've met in the Rose Bowl seven times - are squaring off for the first time in 18 years in the first game of the season between a pair of top-10 teams.
"We love competing against the top teams," USC quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "That's why I came here. It's going to be a great day for college football. The (Los Angeles) Coliseum is going to be rocking."
Much of the talk heading into this showdown has been on the Buckeyes, not just on the status of star tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells but on their poor performance last week. Some are wondering if Ohio State, a double-digit underdog, can go on the road and really challenge a Trojans team which had last week off to rest and prepare for the Buckeyes.
Even with Wells sidelined by a foot injury, Ohio State was a huge favorite at home against Mid-American Conference foe Ohio last Saturday. The Buckeyes trailed entering the fourth quarter and were held to 272 total yards for the game as they struggled to a 26-14 victory.
"The only way we can be successful on the road at Southern Cal is be at our best, I mean, there's no way that we can do it if we're not at our best," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "So I think all of us in the whole locker room recognized after the (Ohio) game that we weren't at our best."
Tressel said Tuesday he expects Wells will be able to play. The junior told Tressel on Monday that he's "ready to carry 45 times on Saturday."
Wells ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in a season-opening 43-0 win over Youngstown State before getting hurt, and he was ninth in the nation last season with 1,609 rushing yards.
An extra week of rest surely must have helped Wells, as it might have done for Sanchez, even though he appeared very healthy in USC's season opener at Virginia on Aug. 30.
The fourth-year junior dislocated his kneecap in practice last month and it was originally unclear if he would play in the opener, but Sanchez completed 26 of 35 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-7 win.
"You can just sense that if you give him time back there, he's going to find guys and he's got a real attitude about him to take advantage of it. It's his nature," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, a former secondary coach at Ohio State.
Sanchez is hoping to get USC back into the national title game after quarterback John David Booty was unable to do so the past two years. The Trojans have played in the last three Rose Bowls, including a loss to Texas for the 2006 national championship after beating Oklahoma for the BCS title the previous year.
While USC has won 11 national championships, the Buckeyes have claimed seven. They played for one each of the last two years, but lopsided losses in both games - not to mention last week's lackluster effort - have left the program with something to prove.
"The disappointing thing about when you don't succeed, I don't care if it's when you're playing 1 versus 2 or you're playing in the middle of the year and you're 5-5 is you don't do your best, but probably more disappointed than even the outside world is," Tressel said. "So a chance at a highly noticed game to play our best, absolutely it's something our guys are anxious to do."
The programs have not faced each other since USC's 35-26 road win on Sept. 22, 1990. It was the Trojans' fifth straight win over the Buckeyes and gave them an 11-9-1 edge in the all-time series - both teams have been ranked in 11 of those matchups.
A key factor in Ohio State getting its first win over USC since the 1974 Rose Bowl could be if quarterback Todd Boeckman can be effective against the Trojans defense.
Boeckman was 16-of-26 for only 110 yards without a touchdown last week, and he's often played poorly against top-caliber competition. In his final three games last season - facing Illinois, Michigan and LSU - Boeckman completed 35 of 62 passes for 414 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions as the Buckeyes went 1-2.
"It's going to be huge. It's going to be the Trojans firing at us," Boeckman said. "There's going to be a lot of national attention. It's a statement game for us."
Among the Trojans trying to slow him down will be USC star linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who likely would have been high NFL draft picks if they had turned pro after last season. That duo keyed a strong defensive performance in the opener as USC limited Virginia to 187 total yards and forced four turnovers.
The Buckeyes, though, boast the reigning Butkus Award winner in linebacker James Laurinaitis, who already has 14 tackles and an interception through two games.
"We've all heard nothing but excitement for this game," Carroll said. "This is a huge event. It's gonna be really fun for us."
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