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Just The Sports: Ohio State and USC

Just The Sports

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ohio State and USC

Since the start of this, the 21st century, the Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Southern California Trojans have been among the elite programs in college football, setting the standard by which other college football teams are measured, and they have done so thanks to head coaching changes they made before the 2001 season when they handed over the reins to Jim Tressel and Pete Carroll, respectively. Each program was experiencing similar difficulties when they made the hires they did. Although the Buckeyes and the Trojans had storied programs, they had each fallen on hard times, USC more than Ohio State, struggles that lasted for the first year of Tressel's and Carroll's tenures. Carroll's USC team only went 6-6 and Tressel's Buckeyes only bettered that record by one win by going 7-5.

After that first season, the teams coached by these two coaches have flourished in amazing fashion and though the Buckeyes and Trojans have yet to face each other head-to-head while Tressel and Carroll have been there to coach on the sidelines of such a contest, I wanted to see if these statistics would indicate a clearly superior team or at least one that would have a decided advantage should the aforementioned match-up actually happen.

To do so was impossible. Not only have these two teams handily dismantled their competition, but they have done so in virtually identical fashion, save for slight variations due to differing ideologies. Offensively, for the eighty-seven USC games and the eighty-six Ohio State games I have statistical data for*, USC has thrown statistically significantly more passes per game (34.7 to 25.0) and also has a statistically significant advantage in completion percentage (62.5% to 59.7%). Despite the lower completion percentage, Ohio State has a very slight, but not significant, advantage in yards per pass attempt (7.9 to 7.8) and a significant advantage in yards per catch (13.2 to 12.5), meaning that USC quarterbacks throw safer, shorter passes which bumps up their completion percentages while Ohio State quarterbacks take more chances down the field so there is no clear winner in the passing time. In the rushing game, USC has averaged 4.4 yards per rush to Ohio State's 4.2.

Defensively, USC is again significantly superior to Ohio State when it comes to completion percentage, this time because they hold their opponents to a lower completion percentage (54.4% to 57.0%), and once again the Ohio State Buckeyes make up the difference by holding their opponents to comparable yards per pass attempt (5.9 to 6.0) and yards per catch (10.3 to 11.0). Both teams are amazingly tough against the run, with Ohio State giving up 2.9 yards per rush and USC allowing 3.0 yards per rush.

Simply looking at how the teams have done on offense against only non-conference opponents eliminate the superiority Ohio State held over the Trojans in terms of yards per catch. Ohio State averages 13.1 yards per catch in non-conference opponents against USC's 12.7. Also working in USC's favor is an increase of their lead in rushing averages, averaging 4.8 yards per rush while Ohio State has been averaging 4.1 yards per rush.

Then again, when it comes to defending non-conference opponents' passing attack, the significant advantage USC held in completion percentage disappears (55.1% to 56.8%). Against the run, Ohio State holds opponents to fewer yards per rush (2.8 to 3.3).

As good as Ohio State has been against non-conference opponents, they raise their level of play against their conference opponents, offensively speaking, and they re-open the significant advantage in yards per catch (13.3 to 12.4) and USC was unable to re-open their own advantage in completion percentage (62.3% to 59.7%). Really, the teams are a wash and equally adept at moving the ball and scoring points.

Defensively against non-conference opponents, USC maintained their significant advantage in completion percentage allowed (54.0% to 57.1%), although that was the only category in which they were appreciably better than the Buckeyes.

What makes these teams so great are the fact they are equally proficient in dominating their non-conference and conference foes. No matter who they are facing, the two programs perform the same way, which for them means they are performing as two of the top programs in the country.

*Note: Statistical data does not include Ohio State's 2001 match against Purdue in which the Buckeyes defeated Purdue, 35-9.



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