|Written by Chris Coleman.
It's a rare thing that a team embarrassed horribly one year gets the opportunity to return to the grandest stage the game offers in order to redeem itself. But such is the good fortune of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who return to the BCS title game just 12 months after being humiliated by the Florida Gators.
The Buckeyes may have fallen into their good fortune thanks to slip-ups by several teams in the final two weeks of the season, but they could not be hungrier to avenge their loss to the Gators when they take on the LSU Tigers, another team that benefited from others' mistakes late in this, the craziest season in recent college football memory.
The Tigers, considered the best team in college football for a good part of the season, have something to prove as well, with many other teams having clamored for a chance to play in New Orleans Monday night. Two of those teams, the USC Trojans and Georgia Bulldogs, took care of business on New Year's day, leaving even a little more pressure on the second-ranked Tigers. But don't tell the Tigers they shouldn't be playing in this de-facto home game.
"I really feel it was our destiny to be here," LSU receiver Early Doucet said. "For things to go the way they went -- us losing to Arkansas, Pittsburgh beating West Virginia and Oklahoma beating Missouri -- it all fell into place the way it did and I just think it was meant to be."
Beyond validation of their place in the title game, there will be some history on the line in Monday night's game as well, with the winning school becoming the first in the 10 year history of the BCS series to win the championship game twice, with the Buckeyes having won in 2002 and LSU the year after.
The Tigers have wowed fans and media all season with their speed and athleticism, while the Buckeyes have had to battle critics who have said that the Big Ten was down this year and the Buckeyes were lucky to play such a weak schedule. But the Tigers don't seem to believe that the old-school approach of the Buckeyes is one that can not hang with the big boys of the SEC.
"I'm not buying that," Doucet said of people who contended that Ohio State was not good enough to earn a spot on the game's premiere showcase.
But, protest as he will, Doucet can not ignore the fact that the Buckeyes have been routinely trounced by schools from the SEC over the years, going 0-8 against them in bowl games, including last year's annihilation at the hands of the underdog Gators.
For their part, Ohio State believes they have learned well the lessons of last season, and won't let being favorites this year keep them from being focused come game time.
"Last year players were enjoying themselves a little too much," Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
The Buckeyes should definitely have fewer distractions this week than the Tigers, as LSU has been surrounded by family and friends all week from just down the road in Baton Rouges. In that sense, the homefield advantage LSU has could hurt them before the game as much as it helps them during the game.
If the Tigers get up early, however, expect the rabid Tiger fans and the ghosts of last year's national title game to conspire to cripple Ohio State. But, as Laurinaitis said, the Buckeyes don't feel like they are the same team mentally as they were last year and they are not facing the same offensive powerhouse that they faced a year ago. Expect Tressel to have his players prepared, focused and looking for revenge.
That mental toughness may be what helps Ohio State redeem themselves in the BCS spotlight. If the Buckeyes can keep the game close, this season has proven that LSU is vulnerable to defeat at the end of games – their two only two losses coming in triple overtime fashion. Look for Tressel to keep the game close and low scoring by pounding LSU's somewhat vulnerable rush defense with Chris Wells rushing behind his massive offensive line.
Last updated on January 07, 2008.