COLUMBUS - Ohio State and Oregon got the jump on everyone else. While the rest of the country waited until Sunday night's bowl lottery to find out who would be playing where and what the opposition would be, the Rose Bowl had its combatants lined up a few days earlier.
Ohio State was locked in with the Rose Bowl since a Nov. 14 win over Iowa gave the Buckeyes a fifth straight Big Ten championship. Oregon snagged the Pac-10 Rose Bowl bid by defeating rival Oregon State in its season finale four days ago. That's given Ohio State coach Jim Tressel ample time to make an initial assessment of his Jan. 1 opponent.
"They have speed everywhere," Tressel said about the Ducks, who scored better than 35 points nine times this season, including the last six games in a row. "They play with such tremendous tempo and passion.''
After scoring just eight points while opening the season with a loss at Boise State, Oregon has been on an offensive binge ever since. The Ducks score almost 38 points per game and average 425 yards of offense per game.
"I know one thing: We better get in shape,'' Tressel said. "We're going to have to be in tremendous shape. It's going to be a great challenge. Our defense has done a good job all year, and I know they'll prepare hard."
Ohio State and Oregon have a pair of common opponents from this season - Southern California and Purdue - the two teams that beat the Buckeyes.
The Trojans came into Ohio Stadium early in September and defeated the Buckeyes 18-15. Ohio State had 313 yards of offense against USC. In late October, Southern California visited Eugene and got whacked 47-20 by the Ducks, who had 327 offensive yards in that game.
Against Purdue in mid-October, the Buckeyes had their poorest outing of the season and lost 26-18 on the road, while Oregon beat Purdue 38-36 in Eugene in the second game of the season.
Oregon's trigger man on offense is quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli has thrown for better than 2,000 yards this year and has had a hand in 27 touchdowns, either running or passing the football. Running back LaMichael James had 1,476 yards rushing this season.
"The thing that you know that they bring to the table is that at every level and every stage, you've got to defend it all," Tressel said. "You've got to defend the running backs, who have been extraordinary. The quarterback is a guy who can hurt you bad with his speed and his arm. The receivers do a great job on the quick throws, and they do a great job on the deep throws."
But Tressel's quick, preliminary review of Oregon has left him with the distinct impression that Masoli is the key to everything the Ducks do, with his quick release and his ability to use his feet to make plays when his other options break down.
"I think we've always felt offensively, if your quarterback adds the dimension of being able to add something with his feet, and their young man does, that's scary," Tressel said.
Ohio State's coaches are out recruiting, while the Buckeyes take final exams the first part of this week. The team is scheduled to resume practice on Thursday. Tressel indicated that Ohio State will break for the Christmas holiday on Dec. 21 and then fly to Pasadena late Christmas day.
Tressel, speaking in a national conference call Sunday night, said he has a lot more to learn about Oregon before the Buckeyes can formulate a detailed game plan for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl, but the speed element is one thing he is already certain about.
"We'll have a chance to watch all of their films and get a handle on it," Tressel said. "But I can promise you, they are lightning. If you can win the Pac-10 - and I think top to bottom, the Pac 10 is one of the most balanced and good football conferences in America - and if you can win that outright, you have a great football team. We will obviously need to be at our best."
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was scheduled to take part in the same conference call but was unable to connect due to technical problems. The conference call was also hindered by interference from apparent miscreants, who attempted to use the format for prank calls and a gag staged by an Oregon radio station.
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