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2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview Ohio State vs. Miami from College Football News.com

For all the arguments and all the projections about what would happen if three or more teams finished unbeaten, or if there was only one team left without a loss, we have a true national championship game between the two best teams in college football.

Since this whole silly BCS thing began, there have only been two national title games between unbeaten teams and while both were compelling games, both were blowouts. In the 2000 Sugar Bowl, Florida State and Peter Warrick beat Michael Vick and Virginia Tech 46-29. Nebraska steamrolled Florida 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl has been the home of some of the biggest duds among the major bowls over the last several years. Only two of the last fourteen Fiesta Bowls have been decided by fewer than ten points. One was the rather dry national title game between Tennessee and Florida State in 1999, and the other was a 26-22 Syracuse win over Colorado in 1993.

Forgetting that this is for the national title, you can forgive Miami if it's less than excited about playing in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes are 0-3 in Tempe getting embarrassed 29-0 by Arizona in 1999, losing a 39-37 classic against UCLA in 1985, then the epic 14-10 national championship loss to Penn State in the 1987 game.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are just happy to not be playing South Carolina in the post-season after losing to the Gamecocks in their last two bowl games. It hasn't always been pretty this season for the Buckeyes, especially on the road, barely getting past mediocre teams like Cincinnati, Purdue and Illinois. Wins are wins, and Ohio State did what other teams weren't by finding ways to win when things weren't going as well as expected. It's not like the team went against a bunch of cupcakes playing, and beating, eight bowl teams including Pac 10 champion Washington State and Alamo Bowl winner Wisconsin on the way to thirteen wins.

Miami played some big time teams as well beating seven bowlbound teams. Along the way, the Hurricanes went to Florida and Tennessee and came away with blowout wins. This is a program in the midst of a 34 game winning streak and has won five straight bowl games. The Canes are looking to be the first repeat national champions since the 1994-1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Players to watch: Where do you start? Obviously all eyes will be on Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee and Maurice Clarett, but there are other major factors in play. The biggest matchups in this game will be the Miami receivers vs. the Ohio State defensive backs, and the Ohio State rushing attack vs. the Miami run defense.

Miami's Andre Johnson will be locked on by one of college football's best two-way stars, sophomore Chris Gamble. The 6-3 Johnson destroyed Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl catching seven passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but he'll face the best athlete he's faced all year in the 6-2 Gamble. Gamble led the Buckeyes with four interceptions, but he's still learning the subtle nuances of the position after starting the season at receiver. This isn't the problem for Ohio State.

National Rankings
Ohio State Miami
Total Offense
67th  372 ypg 6th  473.92 ypg
Total Defense
20th  317.15 ypg 8th  286.50 ypg
Scoring Offense
42nd  29.15 ppg 3rd  41.92 ppg
Scoring Defense
2nd  12.23 ppg 15th  18.08 ppg
Run Offense
30th  194.85 ypg 34rd  191.33 ypg
Run Defense
4th  78.69 ypg 73rd  167 ypg
Pass Offense
89th  177.15 ypg 16th  282.58 ypg
Pass Defense
88th  238.46 ypg 1st  119.50 ypg 
Turnover Margin
23rd  .77 51st   .17 
Ohio State  13-0
Texas Tech W 45-21
Kent State W 51-17 
Wash St W 25-7
at Cinc W 23-19
Indiana W 45-17
Nwestern W 27-16 
San Jose St W 50-7 
at Wisc W 19-14
Penn State W 13-7
Minnesota W 34-3
at Purdue W 10-6 
at Illinois W 23-16 OT
Michigan W 14-9
Miami 12-0
Fla A&M W 63-17
at Florida W 41-16
at Temple W 44-21
Boston Coll W 38-6
Conn W 48-14
Florida St W 28-27
at West Va W 40-23
at Rutgers W 42-17
at Tenn W 26-3
Pittsburgh W 28-21
at Syracuse W 49-7
Va Tech W 56-45
Position Ratings
relative to each other
OSU 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 5
5 RBs 5
3.5 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 5
4.5 D Line 5
4.5 Linebackers 4.5
3.5 Secondary 5
5 Spec Teams 3
5 Coaching 5

The concern for the Buckeyes will be the on the other side where sophomore Dustin Fox, generously listed at 6-0, will best tested all game long. He's a safety forced into playing corner, and if he's getting burned, Ohio State will have a long game. 

Trying to help him out is All-Everything safety Mike Doss. There's not a better hitting safety in college football, but he struggled at times this season in deep pass coverage.  If Miami tries to win with the short passing game, Doss will end up with about 15 tackles, as he'll be in on every play.

For Miami, it's all about stopping the run. Despite having two of the nation's most athletic linebackers in Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams to help out a who's who of the 2006 NFL Pro Bowl defensive linemen, the Canes are 73rd in the nation against the run. West Virginia ran for 363 yards on the Canes, Pittsburgh ran for 193, Virginia Tech ran for 192 and Florida State rumbled for 296. Enter Clarett. The precocious Ohio State freshman is the X factor in this game. As long as he can stay healthy and stay in the game, the Buckeyes have a chance. If he gets knocked out, the Canes could totally shut down the occasionally inept OSU offense.

Ohio State will win if...Clarett stays healthy, and QB Craig Krenzel has a huge game. The Ohio State defense will do just fine, but the offense could be positively stagnant if it's up to Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall carrying the ball. Krenzel won't remind anyone of Michael Vick, or even Bryan Randall, but Krenzel can make plays with his legs rushing for 287 yards this season. He's a clutch playmaker and will have to loosen up the Miami defense with the nation's number one pass defense to take the pressure off the running game. 

Miami will win if...Ohio State can't get any pressure on Ken Dorsey. The Buckeyes have some great individual talents in the secondary, but they give up a ton of yards. If the Miami offensive line can give Dorsey time, the senior star will pick apart the OSU DBs. Once that starts happening, Doss and LB Matt Wilhelm will be even more concerned about TE Kellen Winslow, and things will start opening up for McGahee. Ohio State isn't going to hang 30 points on the board with this offense, so a few early Miami touchdowns could put this away early. 

What will happen: A shocker. If, IF, Clarett doesn't get knocked out and Will Smith and Darrion Scott get pressure on Dorsey, then OSU will win. Ohio State has the perfect type of team to beat Miami, or will at least keep this close. To stay with the Canes, you need great special teams, a pounding running game, and a strong defense. No one has a better kicking game than OSU, Clarett might be the best back in America when healthy, and the defense number two in the country in scoring defense. There's no question that Miami has the heart of a champion, and it might be ridiculous to question Ken Dorsey in a big game, but this isn't the same Miami team of last year. The OSU defense will come up with a 2001 Oklahoma Orange Bowl/Alabama in the 1993 Sugar Bowl performance, and the Buckeyes will be national champions.

CFN Prediction: Ohio State 20 ... Miami 17
Line: Oasis Line: Miami -13 | Bet On Sports line: Miami -13


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