In an unpredictable season Ohio State has been consistent

Joe Harrington

As Kent State prepares to play the Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday at Ohio Stadium, they should take note of the unexpected events that have happened this college football season:

• The No. 2 team in the country, USC – a 39.5 point favorite according to the Los Angeles Times – loses at home to Stanford, who had lost 41-3 the previous week to Arizona State.

• Michigan, originally ranked fifth in the country this season, started 0-1 after losing at home to the National Champions – of Division I – Appalachian State.

• South Florida, who was a Division II team 10 years ago, is ranked higher – at five than traditional sunshine state powerhouses Miami, Florida and Florida State.

• Duke snaps the longest losing streak in the country at 22 games against a Big Ten team, Northwestern.

These events have made this season inconsistent and unpredictable.

But this isn’t the case for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have been a model for consistency. They were ranked No.1 throughout the 2006 season before losing to Florida in the National Championship game, 41-14. Now, they’re back in the national title picture. The Buckeyes are ranked third in the country despite losing most of their offense to the NFL last spring.

The last time they won the National Championship, in 2002, they played Kent State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. Kent State quarterback Joshua Cribbs, now a Cleveland Brown, ran for 94 yards and passed for 160 in a 51-17 loss.

This season the Flashes had high hopes to win the Mid-American Conference title for the first time since 1972. But they’re now 3-3 and have lost two of its three MAC games. The offense has struggled to score and are plagued by turnovers.

Not good when the Flashes face the Buckeyes next. Ohio State has one of the best defenses in the country, giving up just 488 yards rushing this season and allows just one touchdown a game.

“They’re going to be the best team we’ve played in the past five years,” said fifth-year senior Tom Sitko. “It’s going to be exciting to play in front of 100,000 people.”

The consensus point spread coming out of Las Vegas has Kent State a slight underdog at or around 30 points. But Kent State coach Doug Martin isn’t worried about the point spread.

“Playing the No. 3 team in the country is really special,” Martin said. “It’s a great opportunity for our kids to go out and compete against the best. We look forward to it.”

Martin said he would rather have played this game earlier in the year, but he said the game may be coming at the perfect time.

“Right now it might be good for us to have a little break away from the conference, catch our breath and go play this like a bowl game,” Martin said.

Playing it like a bowl game doesn’t mean a change in philosophy. Keeping the defense off the field and using the clock to their advantage – like they did against Virginia Tech last season – will be the Flashes top priorities for pulling off the upset.

Playing a lot of people against the deeper and bigger Buckeye roster is another strategy that Martin said will be important if the Flashes want to compete.

“Number one, we got to keep (the players) healthy,” Martin said. “Number two is to be fresh enough to play fast.”

Kent State should remind themselves that no one thought USC would throw four interceptions against a seemingly inferior Stanford team. And no one outside of Idaho thought Boise State had a prayer against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last January. But those teams still overcame the odds– and point spreads– to make college football history.

“If we go out and Ohio State plays their best game and we play our best game, they’re going to win, probably. But that’s why you play the game,” Martin said, “You never know what might happen, if we catch them on a day when they don’t play their best game – we play really well – that’s when special things happen.”

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].