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A Swing Game in a Swing State? Cal vs. Ohio State Roundtable

Cal celebrated a victory in its first road contest of the season in 2011.  Will the Bears get to do the same in one of college football's most storied venues this year?
Cal celebrated a victory in its first road contest of the season in 2011. Will the Bears get to do the same in one of college football's most storied venues this year?

In this presidential election year, you will likely hear the term "swing state" associated with the state of Ohio, if once then a thousand times. On September 15, as the election campaigns heat up, Cal will travel to the swing state of Ohio for a "swing game" against the venerable Ohio State Buckeyes at the Big Horseshoe near the banks of the mighty Olentangy River.

Why do I call it a "swing game"? Because the game at Ohio State could very well be the one that swings the Bears' season toward success or mediocrity (or worse). If the Bears can manage to escape Columbus with a win, or even just acquit themselves well by losing a close, competitive game in a hostile environment, the team and its fanbase will have a lot to be optimistic (or even excited) about going forward to the Pac-12 schedule. If, on the other hand, the Bears stumble and fall hard, one can imagine the gloom and doom we will see on this blog (e.g., "same old Cal," "can't win a big game," "face planting on the road") as we wonder whether a disconcerting road loss will turn the season in a downward direction as it did, for example, in 2009 (Oregon) and 2010 (Nevada).

Regardless of whether you agree that this is a "swing game," what cannot be disputed is that the game is a monumental test for the Bears, a measuring stick game of sorts. Sure, there are many reasons to pooh-pooh the 2012 edition of the big bad Buckeyes: they are coming off a 6-7 season under then-interim coach (now defensive coordinator) Luke Fickell, they are feeling the sting of NCAA sanctions that will keep them out of postseason play this season, and this will be only the Buckeyes' third game under new coach Urban Meyer. But Ohio State is still Ohio State -- talent is not in short supply on the field, there will be 100,000+ rabid Buckeyes fans in attendance, and Meyer is a helluva football coach. Traveling cross country for a 9:00 AM Pacific time kickoff against a storied program in one of college football's most famous venues is a tough task.

So how do your CGB writers and mods see this one?

unclesam22: I think that this game just seems like either a blowout loss or a "close but no cigar" loss. I have no real analysis to base this one, just a lifetime of being a Cal fan and knowing how things feel...Hopefully tOSU's cockiness and lack of depth catches up with them and Cal can pull one out late in the 4th quarter, but it just seems unlikely.

Vincent S: This is one of those games where I feel we might actually be too jacked up. Players step out, get lost in the atmosphere, and before they know it, we're down 14-3. Then the real test begins.

(Well that doesn't sound too promising. Find out what the others think after the jump.)

Ohio Bear: This is a tough task for Cal. We're going on the road against a legacy program, playing in front of more than 100,000 people. I really don't think the 9:00 am PT kickoff will be a factor: not only are we not following the same tight travel schedule as we did against Maryland in 2008, but Cal also practices in the morning ordinarily (don't they still?). So the morning kickoff shouldn't be an excuse.

The problem will be Ohio State and the atmosphere. Say what you want about the Buckeyes and how they're not what they were a couple of years ago, but they are still a talented bunch. Defensively, they'll be good, which will be a problem for us if our offense (Zach Maynard in particular) cannot adjust to the hostile environment.

I hope we're competitive. And I think we will be. Unfortunately, I also think we will lose.

The Ohio State University Marching Band performs Script Ohio.

CALumbus Bear: Unfortunately for us, the atmosphere at "The Shoe" is a fantastic advantage for tOSU. If the Bears had a tough time at Tennessee a few years ago, just wait until they get a good helping of Buckeye Nation. Even though Ohio State is currently under sanctions prohibiting post-season play, the general mood in Columbus is that this is a new, very promising era under Urban Meyer. Buckeye fans are expecting a national championship in the next few seasons, and frankly I believe those expectations are realistic.

After hearing on a local Columbus radio station that fans expect tOSU to "roll out of bed and beat Cal," I hope that Ohio State might overlook us. But Meyer is too good of a coach to let that happen. While Ohio State is beatable, I just haven't seen enough out of Cal on the road against a big-time opponent to be confident that we'll win. My great hope is that we channel our 2002 @ Michigan State victory when we once again venture into Big Ten territory. However, like Ohio Bear, I think we are going to lose.

I hope it isn't too hot and muggy that day, that we don't shoot ourselves in a foot, and that we give ourselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.

atomsareenough: Man, I acknowledge there's a very good likelihood that we lose this game (I'd say maybe 65%, give or take 10%), but I think we have a damned respectable chance of winning. Ohio State is a bit depleted, getting used to a new coach, and I doubt they have this game circled on their schedule the way we (ought to) have it circled on ours. If I were Tedford and the coaching staff, I would have already spent weeks this offseason watching film from Florida and Ohio State, and scheming, drawing up plays, finding exploits, game-planning, etc... This game presents an incredible opportunity for the program. We will definitely open some eyes if we win this game. I'm sure the coaches recognize that, and I hope they seize it. Ohio State is talented, yes. Urban Meyer is a very, very good coach. But I don't think the talent/experience gap is that big, really. If we can get over being in the Horseshoe (punching the Buckeyes in the mouth early will help), I absolutely believe we can make a game of it. Our team is fully capable of beating their team. The only question is, will they be up to the task when the day arrives?

Anyway, I really have no idea what's going to happen. If we come out flat, things could get out of hand early and it could easily be a rout. But I'm expecting a tough fought game. I think the Buckeyes will find out pretty quickly that we're not a pushover, and it will be a dogfight. Maybe they still come away with it, but I'll be really disappointed if we just roll over. Anyway, I think we'll probably beat the spread, but I hope we beat the Buckeyes too.

I'm imagining a final score of around 33-27. Could go either way.

Ohio Bear: The fans may not, but I think the Buckeyes themselves may have this game "circled" because it's their first of the season against a BCS conference opponent. Plus, Meyer has such respect for Tedford, I suspect he won't let his players sleep on us, no matter what the local talk show idiots may think about this game.

atomsareenough: Oh, I'm sure we shouldn't expect that they will take us lightly or anything like that. I imagine they will prepare for us with no less diligence than any other opponent, but maybe we're the fifth most significant game of the season for them, after Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. I highly doubt they're thinking the of the Cal game as an important measuring stick for the program, as we are thinking of them. That's all I meant.

ragnarok: While I expect The 'Shoe to present a formidably hostile environment for our Bears, I have a tough time imagining that it could be more unforgiving that Tennessee. And let's not forget that with the early local start, fans will have a tall order getting as liquored up as Vol Nation was for a season-opening 5pm kickoff back when they were still nationally relevant.

I don't expect a win in Columbus, but I expect we'll still have hope heading into the 4th quarter.

Ohio Bear: You are underestimating Buckeye Nation. They're quite accustomed to noon starts and getting sufficiently lubricated by kickoff.

ragnarok: I've no doubts about the ability of Ohioans to get drunk before lunchtime. I'm just skeptical that any group of 100k football fans could be that much more imposing that what Cal faced at Tennessee. I look forward to the comparison.

Berkelium97: Allow me to pump some sunshine: if you watched Ohio State play last year, it was obvious that they were not a great team. There's a reason they lost 7 games last season.

Their offense was rather one-dimensional. They were 115th in the nation in passing yards per game and only attempted about 19 passes per game. Sure, the few attempts per game accounts for low production, but the team averaged only 6.7 yards per attempt and completed only 51% of passes. That's bad.

They had a run, run, run-first offense and they weren't particularly adept with that. Despite averaging 191 rushing yards per game, they only picked up 4.42 yards per carry. This is a far cry from Oregon (6.66) or even Stanford (5.29). Here's what really stands out: their average time of possession was only 30:40. Teams that run the ball all day tend to dominate the ToP (unless you're Oregon and score 50yd TDs all day long). Here's another bizarre stat: they only ran 807 plays on offense last year (103rd in the nation). So they run often, pick up modest yardage, and then fizzle and punt the ball away to the opponent after failing on third down (3rd down conversion percentage was only 38.7%). This is a strange combination of statistics. It's comforting to know that their offense wasn't great, but it's hard to pinpoint precisely why they were not very good.

Even worse for the Buckeyes, their running game lost two of its most productive players from last season. Dan Herron graduated and Jordan Hall is out with injury until at least the Cal game. Urban Meyer might have to rely more on the passing game this year, which is great for us because Braxton Miller's passing ranged from decent to mind-bogglingly awful. He can run like the wind, but his passing game could use a ton of work.

Kodiak: I don't think that we really know what type of Ohio State team we'll see this year. I suspect that expecting them to be similar to last year's team could set us up for a world of hurt.

They recruit well and have great athletes. My personal bias is that Tressel got stubborn the last few years and didn't scheme to his player's strengths. I don't think Urban Meyer will make the same mistake. We're just fortunate that we get to see him before he has a chance to recruit more to his preferred systems.

Even so, I expect this game to play out similar to the Holiday Bowl against Texas. (And I'm hoping for a different result.) Two average offenses stymied by strong defenses. Unfortunately, I think that the difference in the game will come down to mistakes. It'll either be a special teams error which tilts field position. Or some type of defensive breakdown that allows a big play on offense.

Sadly enough, I think that as the road team in a hostile environment relying on young talent in many key positions, we're more likely to make that critical error than they are. Should one error snowball into many, we get Cal at Tenn all over again.

On the other hand, I'd be really happy if Cal can repeat their legendary road performance against then-ranked Michigan State, the famous "Seventy-four thousand....DISAPPOINTED FANS!" game.

Considering that Ohio State is down, they can be had. This is the time to do it. And an inspired performance by our coaches and players would do wonders for restoring faith in Coach Tedford as well as revitalizing Cal fans everywhere.

My practical self says that this is unlikely. There are far too many unknowns for both teams. And to be honest, Cal football hasn't inspired a lot of confidence the past two years.

But maybe this year is our year. (Too soon?)

Remember the last time Cal ventured into a Big Ten stadium? This guy had quite a game.

TwistNHook: Score predictions?

LeonPowe: Cal 2 - OSU 0

Vincent S: OSU 2, Cal 0

Ohio Bear: Cal is competitive but Ohio State's home Horseshoe advantage is too much to overcome.
Ohio State 27, Cal 17.

CALumbus Bear: We play well but OSU's stout defense and intimidating crowd cause us to fail in some scoring opportunities: Ohio State 20, Cal 13.

Berkelium97: I foresee a tough, competitive game, but I'm not sure the Bears have the discipline or experience to win in an environment like this. Cal 21, Ohio State 24.

atomsareenough: Wow, every single one of us is predicting we will lose this game? That's kind of a bummer. I guess it means we all agree it's >50% likely that we lose... but it doesn't feel so overwhelmingly likely that we should all be unanimous about it. So, I guess I'll be the sunshine pumper and get to look smart when Cal comes up with the surprise road victory. I'll stick with my prediction of 33-27, Bears win.


Ohio Bear: I think I'd bet a bottle of Balvenie 12-year old scotch that we don't score 33.

ragnarok: I'd have to think that's a bet even you would be happy to lose.

Ohio Bear: I would be as happy to lose that bet as I'd be to have Natalie Coughlin be my date for this game.

atomsareenough: I'd take the level of conviction a lot more seriously if it were CALumbus Bear offering that bet. On the other hand, if CALumbus put his scotch where his mouth was, he'd probably just drink it all.