COLUMBUS, Ohio – Classes haven't even started at Ohio State, and already there's a big test.
Almost every year, early in the season, the Buckeyes put their season on the line against a non-conference football power. It's risky business when the goal is a national championship, but it's something No. 2 Ohio State — and Saturday's opponent, No. 12 Miami — have being doing for years.
Buckeyes wide receiver DeVier Posey wouldn't have it any other way. And he's miffed that rising programs such as Boise State can climb in polls and prestige while tiptoeing through a schedule with only one or two difficult games.
"To be a national champ, you have to play against the best people and the best teams," Posey said, "No disrespect to Boise, but I wouldn't trade our schedule in for anybody's — for an easy ride to a national championship."
There is no question that Ohio State doesn't hide from big non-conference games. Miami never has, either.
During a quarter-century of national prominence from 1980-2005, the Hurricanes never ducked a top opponent. They played Notre Dame when both were title contenders, and had their annual showdown against Florida State with occasional matchups against Florida, Oklahoma, Penn State, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The past two years, the Buckeyes have played Southern California. Next year, they play at Miami, and will have future home-and-home dates with California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Sprinkled into the non-Big Ten mix are games against Colorado, Navy and last year's Big East champion, Cincinnati, along with a dose of Mid-American Conference opponents who can bus to Columbus.
When athletic director Gene Smith came aboard in 2005, it was already Ohio State's philosophy to offer the school's huge fan and alumni base a chance to see their favorite team in the far reaches of the country, in addition to spicing up the home schedule.
On top of that, playing top-notch competition can also pay benefits in a Bowl Championship Series world.
"You could go the route of not playing that level of a team, but I think it helps you," Smith said Wednesday. "If you want to have a chance to be national champions, you've got to go outside your league and play somebody tough. I think it helps you with your BCS rankings in the end. If we're blessed to beat Miami and Miami ends up running the table in the ACC, that only strengthens our case to be No. 1 or No. 2. We kind of think it's an important thing to do."
As if the game needed additional hype, Ohio State fans have been roiled by watching the latest film involving actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a former Miami defensive lineman.
In a popular YouTube video, he promised an "all-day-long, pack-your-lunch, sweater-vest-stomping (expletive)-kicking, Hurricane style."
It's not just another game for the players, either.
"I have a buddy that got to play against Ohio State last year for USC," Miami safety Vaughn Telemaque said. "He said it's a big-time atmosphere, something that makes you just want to go out there and perform to your highest abilities. I'll take that."
Ohio State has won the last five Big Ten titles but has lost each of the past two years to USC, which put a severe crimp in its hopes of playing for a national title.
"Everybody always says, 'Oh, Ohio State can win the Big Ten, but they can't win on the big stage, in an early season game,'" defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. "Last year we had USC, the year before that we had USC. It's been rough for us. If we want to make this team make a statement then we have to do it here."
The meeting — the teams' first since Ohio State's 31-24 double-overtime win in the 2002 national championship game — has been on some players' minds for years.
"This game can set us up for what we've been working for," Miami defensive tackle Marcus Forston said. "This is one of the reasons why I came here. I remember I was in the U.S. Army All-American game, playing with some of those (Ohio State) guys. We were saying it then: 'Our junior year, it's going down. It's going down.'"