Game Thirteen: The 2011 Sugar Bowl (January 4, 2011)
Location: The Louisiana Superdome (New Orleans, LA) 8:30 pm EST, ESPN
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino
Arkansas Players Recruited By Ohio State: RB Broderick Green. Green originally signed with USC in 2007, but transferred to Arkansas after the 2008 season.
Arkansas Offense vs Ohio State Defense: Let me lay it out for you this way ~ Arkansas has a quarterback who threw for over 3000 yards, has a running back who gained over 1000 yards on the ground, and five different receivers with at least 500 yards.
QB Ryan Mallett is the best quarterback Ohio State will play this season, and will be a first round draft choice whenever his college career concludes. Mallett may remind Ohio State fans of the stereotypical Michigan quarterbacks like Elvis Grbac or John Navarre, and actually is a former Michigan quarterback.
Mallett played for Michigan in 2007 and left Ann Arbor as Rich Rodriguez was hired and implemented his spread option offense attack - talk about throwing out a diamond in the garbage. When Mallett wound up at Arkansas, I would guess Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino felt like Steve Buscemi near the end of Fargo.
RB Knile Davis is a sophomore who seemed to get better and better as the season progressed, averaging nearly 7 yards a carry. Wideouts Jarius Wright and Joe Adams were Mallett's favorite receiving targets.
The biggest concern for Ohio State defensively, in my estimation, is Arkansas TE D.J. Williams. If Williams is unable to be covered by Ohio State safety Jermale Hines, and I do not believe Ohio State will try to cover Williams with a linebacker, it could be a long night for Ohio State.
Edge: Arkansas. Ohio State is going to need to continually blitz and apply pressure on Mallett. Ohio State has a good defense, ranking 2nd nationally, but Petrino is one of the best offensive minds around, and Arkansas hung tough against a very good Alabama defense earlier in the season.
Ohio State Offense vs Arkansas Defense: Ohio State's offense seemed to find itself in the latter stages of the season, leaning heavily on its solid offensive line and running game. RB "Boom" Herron became the primary offensive cog for Ohio State, having big games down the stretch that helped Ohio State to tie for the conference championship.
Wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey both had over 50 receptions this season. Hope springs eternal that TE Jake Stoneburner may be used more as a receiving threat within the offense.
QB Terrelle Pryor will need to play his best game, as Arkansas is ranked 33rd in the country in
total defense. Pryor will need to scramble for positive yardage whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Edge: Ohio State. Considering Pryor will be out for the first five games of 2011, I look for Pryor to rise to the occasion as he did last year in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.
Intangibles: As though Ohio State did not hear the whole 0-9 SEC mantra enough leading up to this game, the Big Ten went oh-fer on New Year's Day. I completely agree with Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com who wrote that it was the worst day in the conference's football history.
Here's a little note to Jim Delany - the next time you campaign for your teams to be on "the big stage" as you put it in December, be sure to make sure the teams don't piddle from stage fright on it.
The pending suspensions, which dominated the Ohio State headlines leading up to this game, have truly become secondary.
Prediction: I am going to take some well-deserved shots from people on both sides of this one, as the conference was completely embarrassed on New Year's Day, the game is in the heart of SEC country, and Ohio State could very well be psyched out from the previous SEC defeats, as well as the looming suspensions.
However...I believe Jim Tressel will unleash a new wrinkle or two in this game that will make the difference, and I think Terrelle Pryor will make a play or two that will show why he was so heavily recruited out of Jeannette, PA, a few years back. I am going with Ohio State 28, Arkansas 24.