Toledo-Ohio St. Preview
By RUSTY MILLER
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) As bad as things have been on the national stage for Ohio State's football program the last nine months, the Buckeyes remain the kings of the Buckeye state.
That's what it's like when you go 32,844 days since your last loss to a backyard opponent.
Suspensions, NCAA investigations, a vacated season, a deposed coach and a departed quarterback have stung Ohio State. But by virtue of Saturday's 42-0 beatdown of Akron, and the overwhelming popularity of the scarlet and gray, the Buckeyes continue to maintain their in-state dominance within Ohio's borders.
The Buckeyes are 42-0-1 against their closest neighbors since their last loss, a 7-6 setback to Oberlin during native son Warren Harding's administration back in 1921.
Next up is Toledo, a far more talented Mid-American Conference team than Akron, which comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
"You can't take anyone lightly and I don't think we ever do," Buckeyes defensive back Nate Ebner said. "Anyone we're going to play against, we know they're capable of anything. We understand that and have that mentality during the week."
Ohio State has played the Rockets twice - and won by a combined score of 87-0.
But the Rockets are coming off a 58-22 victory over New Hampshire in their season-opener on Sept. 1. In addition to the extra time to get ready for the game at Ohio Stadium, they're also the preseason pick to win the MAC. And with Ohio State still without four and possibly seven players suspended for trading memorabilia for cash, many don't believe this will be an easy game.
"Our players are excited, there's no question about it," Rockets coach Tim Beckman, a former Ohio State assistant coach, said on Monday. "A majority of our football team is from the state of Ohio, from what we call Rocket Nation - a four-hour radius (from Toledo). They all know about the Buckeyes."
While Akron got $850,000 for coming to Columbus, the Rockets get nothing. That's because Toledo was the home team two years ago when the teams met at Cleveland Browns Stadium and got to keep all the money then.
It's not like the Rockets haven't played - and won - big games against big-time programs before. Upsetting the high and mighty, or at least teams from automatic qualifying Bowl Championship Series conferences, is almost a yearly occurrence.
Last season Toledo beat Purdue of the Big Ten 31-20, the year before that the Rockets romped over Colorado of the Big 12, 54-38, and the year before that they administered one of the most shocking losses Michigan has ever had, beating the Wolverines 13-10 at The Big House.
The Rockets have also whipped Kansas, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Penn State this decade.
Beckman isn't afraid to give a history lesson to his charges.
"We've brought up that (Michigan) win, we've brought up the win against Colorado and the win against Purdue last year and the great wins that they've had here at UT, like the Pittsburgh win when Pittsburgh was rated ninth in the country," Beckman said. "This program has won a lot of big football games."
Since 2003, the Rockets have six victories against opponents from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences. That's the ninth-most by a non-BCS school, just two behind renowned giant-killer Boise State. And the Rockets play Boise State next after they take on Ohio State.
On the other sideline, despite missing eight players who were suspended for violating NCAA rules the Buckeyes looked like their old, bullying selves against overmatched Akron.
The two quarterbacks ranked No. 1 and No. 1-A on the roster, Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller, tuned up by looking poised and focused. They completed a combined 20 of 28 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns, plus ran 12 times for 62 yards.
"It was good for both Braxton and I to get out there," said Bauserman, a fifth-year senior. "Braxton came in and did well and moved the ball. We both were focused. Now it's time to watch the film and prepare for Toledo."
"Next week I'll be ready," Smith said of the Rockets. "I got my first game after really getting my feet wet as a starter."
Finally, the defense snuffed Akron's attack, limiting it to just five first downs and 90 total yards.
No wonder interim coach Luke Fickell considered his first game in charge of the program as a solid first step.
"We know what our expectations are," he said. "We're not going to be satisfied. That's the biggest thing. But we are definitely excited about having a great day out there and looking forward to getting better."
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap
Updated September 6, 2011