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 NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Despite what they're saying in Las Vegas, the odds favor Ohio State beating LSU in the national championship game on Monday night.
Here's why:
-The Buckeyes have to look better than they did a year ago when they were blistered by Florida 41-14 in the title game;
-That 0-8 record against Southeastern Conference teams has to end sometime.
Right?
The Buckeyes came to New Orleans with a purpose. That was to quiet all the critics who have mocked them for playing a soft schedule and for ``backing in'' to the title game.
Hey, it isn't their fault about a dozen other teams couldn't seal the deal when they had to. All Ohio State did was go 11-1. End of argument.
Now comes the hard part, finding a way to beat a deep and talented LSU team playing in its home state in a stadium that's a second home. Gulp.
Here's how coach Jim Tressel and his staff will approach it:
QBs: If Todd Boeckman gets time, he's effective. When he doesn't, he's in trouble. Ohio State will go with three-step drops and quick passes to try to prevent LSU from bull-rushing Boeckman every play.
RBs: Chris ``Beanie'' Wells is coming off a monster game (39 carries, 222 yards, two TDs) in a 14-3 win over rival Michigan. He'll have a hard time running up the gut against Glenn Dorsey and Co. in the heart of the line, so count on Wells getting pitches to try to turn the corner or carrying on occasional misdirections or traps to make LSU's speed and aggressiveness work against it.
WRs: Again, time is of the essence. The Buckeyes will likely try to stretch the field with a pass to Brian Robiskie early, just to give the Tigers something to think about. After that, they'll throw 10-yard hooks to Robiskie and the other Brian, Hartline, when the LSU secondary allows them some room to avoid getting beat deep.
Line: This is the whole ball of wax. If LSU outmuscles or speeds past the Buckeyes' bulky line, as Florida did a year ago, OSU might as well start warming up the buses for a quick getaway to the airport. LSU has studied tape of what Florida did. If OSU hasn't found a way to plug those Superdome-sized leaks, Bourbon Street will be bathed in purple after the game.
Offensive summary: By eliminating negative plays with quick-hitting passes and low-risk pitch-sweeps, the Buckeyes can build some momentum, something they badly need to reinforce their shaky psyche after last year's debacle. Boeckman can't afford to be nervous, and Wells must hold onto the ball. A smart game plan will help them avoid both of those worries.
Secondary: LSU's wideouts are big guys, all of them weighing at least 200 pounds and with a distinct height advantage on the Buckeyes, who are quick and athletic but not terribly big. The key man at this spot might be SS Kurt Coleman, a vicious hitter who must pick his spots and send a message to any LSU receiver going over the middle.
Linebackers: James Laurinaitis will get his share of tackles; it's what two-time All-Americans do. The key guy here might be Larry Grant, a senior playing his final game, who must go out in style, particularly when matched up with backs filtering out for a short pass.
Line: This could be the final game for DE Vernon Gholston, and may just be a coming-out party for the other DE, Cameron Heyward. The son of the late NFL runner Craig ``Ironhead'' Heyward will help neutralize LSU RB Jacob Hester on short bursts, plus apply heat from the side on QB Matt Flynn.
Defensive summary: LSU doesn't turn the ball over, but the Buckeyes MUST force them to put the ball on the plastic grass. There is some debate about how good the Tigers' OL is, so Ohio State will likely get some push into the backfield.
Special teams: Tressel preaches special teams, yet the Buckeyes have only been average in most regards this year. Ryan Pretorius has been a money kicker, but A.J. Trapasso has yet to have a big game. He will have to improve on that 41-yard average to keep the Tigers pinned deep in their territory.
Coach: Even LSU fans are nervous about this comparison. Les Miles flies by the seat of his pants at times, and even his most fervent fans scratch their heads at some of his derring-do on fourth down. Oddly, the usually unflappable Tressel actually had a meltdown against Florida a year ago, going for it on a desperation fourth-and-1 while still in the thick of the game in the second quarter. That failure led to the landslide. He won't make that mistake again. The Senator won't make any strategic mistakes this time. Can the same be said for Miles?
Intangibles: The bad: 13 third-year players have filed the paperwork for an NFL evaluation and that can only lead to distractions. The good: the Buckeyes still appear to be focused and ready. It's a strength going into a game knowing you couldn't have done anything more to prepare, and the Buckeyes have that going for them.
Bottom line: Forget the ``home-state'' advantage, the 0-8 record vs. the SEC and the lingering trauma of last year's beating. Ohio State will make no mistakes, and that's enough to keep them in this one - right up until LSU blinks.

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