Commentary

BCS mainstay vs. newbie in Sugar Bowl

Originally Published: December 30, 2010
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Ohio State is playing in its sixth consecutive BCS bowl game, including two appearances in the BCS National Championship Game in the past five years. Arkansas is playing in its first BCS bowl game and hasn't played in the Sugar Bowl since 1980.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty ImagesBobby Petrino joins Urban Meyer and Nick Saban as the only coaches to lead two schools to BCS bowls.

The Buckeyes were ranked in the top two spots of the national polls for the first seven weeks of the 2010 season and resided in the No. 1 spot for seven days. The Razorbacks started the season ranked No. 19 in the country and didn't crack the top 10 of the BCS standings until after they won their final regular-season game.

So why does it seem as if No. 6 Ohio State has more to prove when it plays No. 8 Arkansas in Tuesday's Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome?

Both teams take long winning streaks into New Orleans, with the Buckeyes having won five games in a row and the Razorbacks six straight.

After finishing 13-12 in coach Bobby Petrino's first two seasons, the Razorbacks turned the corner this year. They finished 10-2, with their only losses coming against Alabama and Auburn; the Tide were ranked No. 1 when the Razorbacks faced them, and the Tigers finished the season No. 1. Arkansas won 10 games in a season for only the second time since joining the SEC in 1992, and a victory over the Buckeyes would give them 11 victories for the first time since 1977.

The Razorbacks defeated four teams that were ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS standings -- No. 11 LSU, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 20 South Carolina and No. 21 Mississippi State -- and finished in second place in the country's toughest division. Only Auburn, which will play No. 2 Oregon in the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, defeated more Top 25 opponents this season.

When Petrino left the NFL's Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas after the 2007 season, it seemed as if it would be only a matter of time before he would build the Razorbacks into an SEC contender. In his third season, he joins Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Urban Meyer as the only coaches to lead two schools to BCS bowl games. Petrino also guided Louisville to a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

Arkansas has one of the country's most explosive offenses, averaging 338.4 passing yards and 37.3 points. Quarterback Ryan Mallett is considered a potential first-round pick if he enters this spring's NFL draft after completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,592 yards with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Tailback Knile Davis ran for 1,183 yards with 13 touchdowns, and the Hogs have one of the country's deepest receiver corps, with six players catching 27 passes or more.

But the Buckeyes have much more experience on college football's big stage. They've spent as much time in BCS bowl games as in tattoo parlors.

Ohio State ended a three-game losing streak in BCS bowls by defeating Oregon 26-17 in the 2010 Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes lost to Texas 24-21 in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl after falling badly to Florida 41-14 and LSU 38-24 in the 2007 and '08 BCS National Championship Games, respectively.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesJim Tressel and the Buckeyes broke their BCS jinx with a Rose Bowl win over Oregon last season.

"Eighty percent of our team hasn't been there before, and they know they're going against a great football team," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "Any time you get to match up two teams in the top 10, you get excited about that opportunity."

We know less about this Ohio State team than the previous ones. Last season, the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin, No. 11 Penn State and No. 15 Iowa en route to playing in the Rose Bowl. They beat four ranked opponents before falling to LSU in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game and were undefeated the year before before losing to the Gators.

This season, Ohio State defeated two teams that were ranked when it played them -- No. 12 Miami and No. 20 Iowa. But the Hurricanes finished 7-5, and coach Randy Shannon was fired after a 23-20 overtime loss to South Florida in the regular-season finale. The Hawkeyes lost their last three regular-season games before defeating Missouri 27-24 in the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night.

Ohio State's only defeat was a 31-18 loss at Wisconsin on Oct. 16, when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the country. The Buckeyes shared the Big Ten championship with Wisconsin and Michigan State, but it might be argued that the Spartans are more deserving of playing in a BCS bowl. The Buckeyes and Spartans didn't play in the regular season, and Michigan State defeated Wisconsin 34-24 on Oct. 2.

"We've proven that we can play good, physical football," Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren said. "Besides our only hiccup earlier this season, we can play with anybody."

This season, the Buckeyes still have yet to prove they can play with somebody who really matters.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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College Football and Basketball