COLUMBUS, Ohio – There's no need to preach to Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren about how good an underdog can be, or what one can accomplish.
You see, Boren has firsthand knowledge of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
On Sept. 1, 2007, Boren played for Michigan when the fifth-ranked Wolverines were shocked 34-32 by championship-subdivision Appalachian State.
"Appalachian State was a good team. People think that these (unranked) teams are so much different, but they're really not," Boren said Tuesday. "They're all very capable teams. Appalachian State was a very good team. People look at it and, like, dang, Michigan must be terrible. It's not like that."
Now in his second year starting since transferring to Ohio State, that afternoon is indelibly etched in Boren's mind. With the second-ranked Buckeyes favored by more than four touchdowns over Ohio University on Saturday, Boren scoffs at what the oddsmakers and experts say.
"It seems like every year there's a couple of those games," he said. "It's a real issue, it can happen any week."
The Buckeyes are coming off a huge victory, a 36-24 decision over then-No. 12 Miami on Saturday. They are well aware that their next four opponents — Ohio, Eastern Michigan, at Illinois and then home against Indiana — are given little chance of beating them.
But Boren recognizes that the gap between a great team and an unknown one isn't as large as many might think.
"You think the talent's going to be so much better on a No. 1- or a No. 2-ranked team and there are better players, but everyone that's playing college football is a good player," he said. "You have guys at Ohio U. who can play on some of these bigger programs."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called the Miami game a bruising contest that was also highly emotional. Many times, it's difficult for a team involved in a game like that to rise to the occasion a week later.
But Tressel said there are reasons why the Buckeyes won't look past the instate Bobcats.
"The first thing that will make it difficult is OU will be tough and they'll be good," he said. "The second thing is reality, that when you play in an emotional game, is there that human tendency to take a deep breath? We kind of take the approach of showing the film, showing where we need to get better."
One film that will undoubtedly be playing at the Tressel Theater this week is the 2008 video of Ohio's foray into Ohio Stadium. In that game, the Bobcats led 7-6 at the half and 14-12 going into the fourth quarter before the third-ranked Buckeyes came back to pull out a 26-14 victory. A flat Ohio State struggled all day, barely escaping with the win despite forcing five turnovers.
"If you look back two years ago, this is a team we kind of struggled with," defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. "On defense we took their starting quarterback out and then all of a sudden Boo Jackson comes in and has a heckuva game. He's running all over the place, converting third downs, getting first downs on his feet and slinging the ball all around."
Jackson completed just 9 of 25 passes for 86 yards with three interceptions that game in relief of the injured Theo Scott. But he scrambled for 55 yards on seven carries and kept his team in the hunt until Ray Small's 69-yard punt return for a touchdown with less than 6 minutes left. Jackson, by the way, will quarterback the Bobcats on Saturday.
It's only human nature to think some teams are vastly better than others. Larimore said he and his teammates can't afford to buy into that, however.
"Obviously, there's always that risk of that, coming after a big win against Miami and coming into a game against a team that, quote unquote, isn't supposed to be able to contend with you," he said. "Normally this would be chance to overlook a team. But this year, with the guys and the leaders and the seniors we have, we'll get our young guys ready to play on Saturday."
Tressel said there's no excuse to not be ready to play every week.
"If we can't get excited 12 times in one calendar year, shame on us," he said.
It took some time for Boren to realize, after the loss to Appalachian State, the magnitude of Michigan's defeat.
"I remember after we lost that game it really didn't sink in," he said. "Then we walk in the practice facility and there's 100 reporters. I remember driving past the stadium and ESPN was filming in front of our stadium and I kind of looked down like, dang — that's when it really sunk in — like, we lost to a Division I-AA team."