By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS — Let’s be honest, nobody talks about Ohio State and Minnesota as a football rivals.
Ohio State has won 25 of the last 26 times the two teams have played each other going into tonight’s game at Ohio Stadium. The only Minnesota win in that stretch came in 2000, when the Gophers beat the Buckeyes 29-17 in Columbus.
Some people thought that victory was Minnesota coach Glen Mason’s audition to be the next Ohio State coach after John Cooper, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Overall, Ohio State has won 43 of the 50 games it has played against Minnesota and four of the Gophers’ wins came before 1950.
Maybe almost as big a proof of the absence of a rivalry is that Minnesota linebacker De’Vondre Campbell isn’t on the list of Ten Most Hated Opposing Players for Ohio State fans.
Last year, when Ohio State was picked as one of the four teams for the College Football Playoff, Campbell offered his opinion that TCU, which also was on Minnesota’s schedule, was “a lot better” than OSU.
Given a chance to reconsider during spring practice in April, he said , “I’m not taking anything away from Ohio State. Great team. Congratulations to them on winning the national championship. But overall I just feel like TCU had a better overall team.”
Imagine if a Michigan player had said that. Or an Alabama player. They’d have to turn off Twitter, close their Facebook and Instagram accounts and make sure their address couldn’t be found anywhere on their university’s web site.
But when a Minnesota player said it, Ohio State fans might have been angry for a few days but then forgot about it. By now probably 98 percent of them don’t even recognize Campbell’s name.
Minnesota (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) opened this season with a 23-17 loss to TCU. So far, Campbell has made any comparisons between Ohio State and TCU and you probably shouldn’t expect any.
A week ago at this time before J.T. Barrett’s unfortunate after midnight ride, it would have been much easier to predict how this game would play out.
Barrett – who is suspended this week because of being nabbed at a sobriety check point early last Saturday morning – had seemed to reinvigorate an Ohio State offense that had gone stale with Cardale Jones at quarterback.
But now Jones is back at quarterback, at least for this week. And the question is will he be the tentative, inconsistent quarterback he was in the first seven game for No. 1 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) or the sensation he was in three postseason games last season?
Minnesota has plenty of questions of its own, starting with the Gophers’ ability to maintain the emotion they brought to the field in a 29-26 loss to Michigan last week three days after their coach Jerry Kill resigned for health reasons.
Can Minnesota achieve that same level of emotion two games in a row? Or will the loss of Kill catch up with them and they will come out flat tonight?
The best way Ohio State can quiet the fears about Jones and the offense would be to jump out to an early lead and make sure this series remains a non-rivalry.
Unfortunately, that has been easier said than done for the Buckeyes. They have scored on their first possession in only two of their eight games, including two turnovers, three three-and-outs and a failed field goal attempt.
Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring at 38.5 points and Minnesota is thirteenth at 21.1 points a game. So, obviously, the Gophers’ hope is to make it a low scoring game.
Even without Barrett, OSU should be able to foil that strategy.
The prediction: Ohio State 31, Minnesota 17.
Reach Jim Naveau at (567) 242-0414 or follow him on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.