Something has to give.
When two of the county’s most well-known programs meet Saturday, each team will have reason for optimism.
USC is 25-1 in non-conference games since 2002, its lone blemish coming against Kansas State in USC coach Pete Carroll’s second year.
Ohio State is undefeated in non-conference home games under head coach Jim Tressel.
With intersectional matchups between top teams becoming a dying breed, anticipation is at a high for Saturday’s game between No. 3 USC (1-0) and No. 8 Ohio State (1-0) at Ohio Stadium at 5 p.m.
More than 105,000 fans are expected to pack into “The Horseshoe” for ABC’s primetime game between the preseason favorites to win the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.
USC has won its last six games against Ohio State, including a 35-3 romp at the Coliseum last year, but the team expects to have its hands full against a hostile crowd on the road.
“We want to carry all of the same elements it takes to play well in that challenge,” USC coach Pete Carroll said earlier this week. “The difference in this game is really the noise.”
The trip to Columbus is expected to be the first true test for USC, which coasted to a 56-3 win against San Jose State in the opener last week at home. All eyes will be on true freshman Matt Barkley, who will start on the road at quarterback for the first time in his career in front of a volatile Buckeye crowd.
Crowd noise was pumped through loudspeakers in practice all week to prepare for the raucous venue. Beyond acclimating Barkley to the basics of going on the road, however, Carroll said the plan was to keep the status quo for his quarterback.
“I would think he’s going to have fun with it,” Carroll said. “He’s going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an on opponent’s stadium of that stature and all. I don’t think it will matter to him at all.”
Ohio State narrowly escaped its opener against Navy last Saturday with a 31-27 win. The Midshipmen had a chance to tie the game with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but an Ohio State linebacker intercepted the two-point conversion attempt and returned it for two points the other way.
The close call dropped the Buckeyes three spots in the polls.
“I thought we were playing fairly well to a certain degree and then we allowed some things to happen which turned it in to quite a football game,” Tressel said in a press conference.
Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor has become the centerpiece of the Ohio State offense after an up-and-down freshman year. Pryor rotated with Todd Boeckman in last year’s game against USC, but neither was able to get into a rhythm and the Buckeyes attack lagged.
With new faces at receiver, running back and offensive line, Pryor will be depended upon to spark the Buckeyes with both his running and throwing ability.
Garrett Green has emulated Pryor for the Trojans in practice, but Carroll said that he has never had a player like the 6-foot-6 Pryor while at USC.
“This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm,” Carroll said. “I think you’ll see he’s not just a runner. He’s working hard to be an all-around quarterback.”
The return to Columbus is a welcome opportunity for Carroll, who coached at Ohio State in 1979 as an assistant. He cited FedExField in his 2004 match against Virginia Tech as the loudest stadium he has experienced as a college coach but noted he was looking forward to Saturday night’s atmosphere.
“It will be a big event for our young that haven’t been on the road before or in a situation like this,” Carroll said. “It’s an extraordinary place to play.”