January 3, 2003. Tempe, Arizona. The Fiesta Bowl following the 2002 season served as the BCS National Championship Game between the top ranked Miami Hurricanes (12-0) and the second ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0). Miami was coming off a national championship the previous season and had won 34 straight games, while Ohio State had achieved their own perfect record on the back of a top defense and one of the best true freshman running backs in the game's history in Maurice Clarett.
Regulation ended a with 17-17 tie on Miami kicker Todd Sievers' 40 yard field goal as time expired, forcing overtime. Ohio State won the toss and decided to defend first, putting Miami's offense on the field. The 'Canes scored a touchdown on a Ken Dorsey to Kellen Winslow seven yard pass to go up 24-17.
It was then Ohio State's turn. Quarterback Craig Krenzel completed a 17 yard pass on 4th and 14 to give the Buckeyes new life after struggling on the first set of downs, but the Buckeyes quickly found themselves facing another fourth down, this time 4th and 3 from the Miami 5 yard line. Krenzel threw a pass to Chris Gamble in the end zone with Glenn Sharpe defending, but the ball fell incomplete according to the line judge. Miami stormed the field, the fireworks went off and fans believed their team had just won its second national championship in two years and sixth title overall.
Not so fast. A field judge had thrown a flag for pass interference in what would go down as the most controversial call in BCS National Championship history, and perhaps college football history as a whole. The call gave Ohio State a first down on the two yard line and Krenzel was able to run it in on third down to tie the game. Ohio State would score a touchdown in the second overtime, but Miami was unable to come up with another touchdown and Ohio State celebrated its seventh national championship.
Feel however you want to feel about the call that ultimately influenced the national championship, but there's no denying the game has stuck in the minds of the 'Canes on the field that night and has carried over to future squads including the one getting set to take the field in Columbus at 3:40 PM on Saturday.
What Miami has to do to win
Stop. Terrelle. Pryor. Not to take away from anybody else on the offense, but if the Hurricanes defense cannot get to Pryor early and take him out of his comfort zone, they'll be in for a long, long afternoon. It's been with his feet that Pryor's traditionally worked his magic, but word has it he's developed a short- to mid-range passing game to go along with his scrambling and rushing ability that could spell disaster for not only the 'Canes, but whoever is unfortunate enough to face the Buckeyes this season. The defensive line came away with eight sacks against Florida A&M last Thursday night, but on Saturday they'll face an offensive line that's a bit stronger than the Rattlers' unit.
On the offensive side of the ball, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris CANNOT throw interceptions in this game. He finished second in interceptions last year with 17 behind only Ole Miss' Jevan Snead and had a tendency to lob passes into double or even triple coverage. The offensive line needs to give him time to throw so that he's not so inclined to make bad decisions, but Harris needs to learn to throw the ball away if nobody's open. He finished the FAMU game with a passer rating lower than only Florida State's Christian Ponder, but just like the defensive line will face stiffer competition on Saturday, so too will Harris who will face last year's 13th ranked pass defense. The Buckeyes start two new safeties this season, although that likely comes as little comfort to the Miami passing game. Running the ball will obviously be key as well, but if Harris and the passing game cannot be effective, the 'Canes don't win this game.
What Ohio State has to do to win
Protect Terrelle Pryor. He's known for his ability to move with the football, but the Hurricanes will come into this matchup keen on getting to the quarterback to knock him off of his game. The offensive line returns four starters and will be a veteran and experienced unit, but if there is one area of concern it's in pass protection. If the Buckeyes really do plan on using Pryor's arm more often this season, and in this game in particular, the offensive line will be challenged to keep a deep and very talented Miami defensive line away from their star quarterback. There are a few Hurricane defensive linemen out for the contest, but overall this is one powerful 'Canes front.
Defensively, the focus will obviously be on shutting down quarterback Jacory Harris and the passing game, but Miami has a plethora of very talented running backs that are expected to share reps. Graig Cooper probably won't play as he continues to recover after tearing an ACL in last year's Champs Sports Bowl, and a five-back rotation isn't exactly likely, but there could be three backs sharing carries to keep fresh legs in the backfield at all times. The Buckeyes field an excellent defensive line and while their linebackers may be a bit undersized, they're fast and extremely effective. The front seven has to be on its game to slow the rushing attack with the 'Canes likely expecting most of the focus to be paid to their Heisman candidate quarterback.
Both of these teams are among the top in the nation. There's no questioning that. The Buckeyes have clearly garnered more national attention and are on the shortlist of possible national championship teams, but there are many who believe the Hurricanes are right up there with the Buckeyes and could very well play for the title themselves this season. By virtue of home field advantage, however, the nod has to go to Ohio State. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
Check out these other stories.....