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Predicting the Sugar Bowl

Sports Editor B.J. Lisko’s annual Ohio State bowl assessment

December 26, 2010
By B.J. LISKO, Salem News Sports Editor

Look, let's not beat around the bush. I don't like Ohio State football. I just don't. This shouldn't be news to most of you, but my dislike for the team started shortly after I became sports editor here in the lovely city of Salem.

Back in January '07 when the Buckeyes had Troy Smith running the show and the team was set to take on Florida in the BCS Championship game, I wrote a column saying Ohio State would lose. I argued that Florida faced a tougher schedule, that Ohio State had an inflated sense of itself because of all the accolades it received including Smith and his Heisman Trophy.

In short, the state of Ohio wasn't happy with me.

I've still got a folder with the literally, hundreds of e-mails and message board bashings I endured the week leading up to that contest. Without going into too much detail, let's just say Ohio State fans are a little passionate about their team. Some of them, like all fans, really, to a point where it's a little scary.

Basically, when people are sending you the most vile of hate mail, wishing you bodily harm based on your assessment/prediction, in this case what turned out to be a correct assessment/prediction, you're naturally going to be a little reluctant to root for that team from that point on.

This is true of any extremely passionate fan. Doesn't much matter the sport, but college and professional football are indeed hot buttons when it comes to argument.

I like Jim Tressel. I really do. I live in Youngstown now, went to Youngstown State University, and Tressel is a Youngstown guy who is nothing but class. I don't dislike anyone on the team personally (I also had a relative who played for the Buckeyes just a few years ago), and in fact cheered the team when they beat Miami in the BCS Championship in 2003.

I hadn't endured the full wrath of Middle Earth at that point.

But with another year always comes another Ohio State bowl game, and almost always another Ohio State BCS bowl game, this year against another SEC team in Arkansas.

Ohio State isn't going to win this game, and it has little to do with Terelle Pryor and his teammates hocking game rings and signed merchandise for money and tattoos. There's speculation that Pryor will forgo his senior year and take his shot at the NFL draft. While that could play a factor in his final game mentally, I think it's more of an advantage to go out and play well to improve his stock. I don't think that matters yet, and if any coach can divert and control that adversity, it's Tressel.

This prediction has everything to do with the statistics, and here's the breakdown.

Ohio State is 0-9 against SEC teams all time including its last three under Jim Tressel - the 2002 Outback Bowl (South Carolina 31, Ohio State 28), the 2007 BCS Championship (Florida 41, Ohio State 14) and the 2008 BCS Championship (LSU 38, Ohio State 24). While ex-Buckeye coach John Cooper is to blame for five of the nine losses, there is a reason Ohio State hasn't beat the SEC in the last decade. Simply put, SEC teams are better. They face a much stiffer schedule than the Buckeyes have, especially in recent years. 2010 has been no different. When Ohio State president Gordon Gee called the schedules of SEC and Big Ten schools, "murderers row," he should've just stuck to the SEC. Arkansas has won 10 games and lost only twice, once to then No. 1 Alabama 24-20, and the second to current No. 1 Auburn 65-43 after quarterback Ryan Mallett was injured early in the game. The combined record of Arkansas opponents this year is 86-59. The Razorbacks have wins against four opponents who have netted at least eight wins (10-2 LSU, 9-3 Texas A&M, 8-4 South Carolina and 8-4 Mississippi State - all of which whom play tougher schedules than anyone in the Big Ten and any one of Ohio State's opponents).

In contrast, the combined record of Ohio State's opponents is 71-72, and the Buckeyes have beaten just one with at least eight wins. That win came against lowly Ohio in Columbus. Better opponents + better conference = mismatch in the Sugar Bowl for Ohio State.

With that being said, time to play devil's advocate.

Mallet is sometimes sporadic at quarterback. When he looks good, he looks good, and when he looks bad, he tanks, hard. If Ohio State brings serious pressure to throw him out of rhythm, or if like Auburn, Ohio State knocks him out of the game, than the Buckeyes will be hoisting the Sugar Bowl trophy.

Similarly to Mallet is Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. He is the polar opposite of Tressel. He's not very calm. He's not cool, and when things start going wrong, he has proven in his 2003-06 stint at Louisville as well as his current time with Arkansas that he cannot pull his team out of adversity mid-contest. By no means is he a class act in the caliber of Tressel illustrated so clearly when he jumped ship on the Atlanta Falcons before season's end in 2007 by way of a locker room note.

He was voted No. 1 by the NFL Network as "Coaches Who Belonged in College."

There is a great deal of contrast between the two teams. Arkansas has faced the stiffer competition but can be a streaky team.

Ohio State has faced weaker competition but is always close in big contests simply because the team reflects the demeanor and candor of its head coach.

So where does that leave my prediction?

I still go with the SEC over the Big Ten just about every day of the week, and this time, even though the coaching nod goes to Ohio State, Arkansas is the more complete of these two teams, has played in bigger and more meaningful games and will emerge as the winner.

Sorry Buckeye Nation.

Arkansas 31, Ohio State 27.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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