The preseason is over for Ohio State and Miami. Let the real season begin.
"It's a relief that finally we can talk about Miami," Buckeyes wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
After spending the summer trying to focus on opening week tuneups and pretending to take things "one game at a time," the No. 12 'Canes and No. 2 Buckeyes will battle on Saturday to see where they stand nationally. The second week of the season brings a bevy of marquee games, but what happens in the Horseshoe will resonate for the rest of the season in both the Heisman and BCS chases.
1. Which quarterback will step up? This is a defining game for two promising quarterbacks who have yet to fulfill their potential. Each has a dud from a big game on his résumé (Jacory Harris vs. Virginia Tech, Terrelle Pryor vs. USC) but strong openers from both have inspired hope that 2010 will be different. Harris was 12-for-15 for 210 yards and three touchdowns in just two quarters against Florida A&M, while Pryor torched the Marshall defense for 245 yards and three scores while completing 68 percent of his passes. Harris looks fully recovered from last season's thumb injury, and he and top target Leonard Hankerson are capable of making life difficult for an inexperienced Ohio State secondary. Pryor can take a very early lead in the Heisman race with a benchmark performance against the 'Canes.
2. Miami needs to establish the run. To pull off the upset, the 'Canes can't count on Harris passing them to victory. Cameron Heyward and his fellow Ohio State defensive linemen are capable of collapsing the pocket if they know Harris is going to throw, so running backs Mike James, Damien Berry and Lamar Miller will have to make Ohio State respect the run. The trio combined for 52 yards and a score on 11 carries in the first half against Florida A&M -- numbers that do not impress given the competition. That part of the offense needs to improve in Columbus.
3. Don't discount the revenge factor.Randy Shannon doesn't want to talk about that fateful night, when the 2002 national title was in Miami's grasp for about two seconds before Terry Porter's flag extended the game eventually won by Ohio State. And that's fine. But Miami fans have been talking about it ever since this game was announced, and the players have doubtlessly been reminded ad nauseam by fans and ex-players that they owe the Buckeyes for depriving The U of another crystal football. One of the top sellers at the allCanes shop in Coral Gables is a T-shirt that reads "Ohio Stole The Crown in 2002" on the front and "Miami Stole The King in 2010" on the back. Snagging LeBron might be some consolation, but true Hurricanes fans badly want revenge against the Buckeyes on Saturday, and these Hurricanes players know it.
Of the 43 starters in the 2002 national championship game (OSU's Chris Gamble started both ways), 37 were eventually drafted, including 18 in the first round. (Thanks to Ken Gordon of the Columbus Dispatch for that one.)
Ohio State enters the game as a 9.5-point favorite. Miami is 4-1-1 the last two seasons against the spread as an underdog. Ohio State is 6-0 vs. the number in its last six games coming off a 30-plus-point victory.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
DL Allen Bailey, Miami: Bailey is a big-time talent who forces the action by rushing the passer or stuffing the run. His ability to line up at several spots on the defensive line makes him even more attractive to NFL scouts. Bailey will be the latest in what has been a long line of impact defensive linemen to come from Miami. Grade: First-round prospect.
DL Cameron Heyward, Ohio State: Like his Hurricane counterpart, Heyward is a big, strong defensive lineman who brings versatility to the field. He offers the athleticism to be used as a two-gap end in a 3-4 alignment or the strength to line up at defensive tackle in a conventional scheme. Grade: First-round prospect.
CB Brandon Harris, Miami: The junior cornerback is a terrific athlete with the size necessary to battle opponents in underneath coverage and the speed to stay with receivers down field. He has an explosive game, but must work on the details of the position. Grade: Second-round prospect.
CB Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State: Chekwa's game has been inconsistent the past few seasons, but he has big upside. He never elevated his play in 2009 after flashing brilliance as a sophomore. He offers the physical skills to start in the NFL, but must complete his game and consistently play at a high level. Grade: Second- to third-round prospect.
Miami makes some big plays in the first half, but Pryor and the Ohio State defense wear down the Hurricanes in the second half. Ohio State 31, Miami 17.