BOISE, Idaho —
As if to hammer home the point, Ohio State University has long referred to itself as THE Ohio State University.
The one and only.
Which leaves picturesque Ohio University in the background. Grabbing attention is tough when you're an afterthought. In the Buckeye State, Ohio U. is a distant third, at best, when it comes to football. You have Ohio State, a sprawling, brawling football factory. You have Cincinnati, a respectable program in a semi-respectable BCS conference. Then you have Ohio, among several mid-major schools, each having its good and bad years: Toledo, Bowling Green, Kent State, Miami and Akron.
Modest programs, one and all.
This hasn't kept the Bobcats from marketing themselves. Their big pitch as they approach Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game against Utah State is that they led all Ohio universities in wins this year with nine. That's one more than Cincinnati and Toledo and three more than THE Ohio State University, which is in THE doldrums.
But if the Bobcats are feeling neglected, they shouldn't worry. They have a friend right across the banquet table. If anyone knows how Ohio feels, it's Utah State University. These are two schools in the same wading pool. Not getting the respect you desire? Feeling skipped over on the nightly news? Buried in the inside pages of the sports section?
Say hello to life in the 55-mph lane of mid-major football.
But that doesn't mean they should avoid promoting themselves. Ohio coach Frank Solich — previously head coach at Nebraska — said this week, "We are getting some things done here at Ohio that has not been done before, so as we look at it program-wise, we have a chance to reach one of the goals that we set prior to the start of the season, and that was to take a step forward by winning a bowl game. There is a lot of drive and energy that will be tied into trying to reach that goal."
Then there are the Aggies, who long ago realized their position as the state of Utah's No. 3 program. While BYU and Utah annually attend bowl games, USU is just learning the process. Yet with a five-game win streak, a case could be made the Ags are the hottest team in the state right now. BYU has won three in a row, but suffered a late-October loss to TCU. Meanwhile, Utah is coming off a home loss to lowly Colorado.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us. Utah State is a very physical football team on both sides of the field, and as I look at them, they are a very complete football team," Solich said.
Fact is, neither Ohio nor USU is all that intimidating. Though Ohio is playing in a bowl for the third straight year, it went from 1969 to 2007 without an appearance. Ohio has been to five prior bowl games, none of which it won.
Big brother Ohio State has been to 42 bowl games and won seven national championships. Cincinnati has been to 13 bowl games, nine since 1997, with another coming up this month.
Meanwhile, USU has played in just six bowl games, but only two since 1961. It is 1-5 in bowls. By comparison, Utah is playing this year in its 17th bowl game and ninth in a row. BYU has been in 30 bowl games, seven in a row.
Utah has won 12 bowl games, BYU 11.
"We definitely got a lot of respect over the last season," Aggie linebacker Bobby Wagner said, "but it's just the beginning of more things to come."
Lasting respect, though, takes years to establish. As it is, the Aggies are the countrified cousins of Utah and BYU, just the way Ohio is to Ohio State. Neither Potato Bowl team is used to being the main event.
That's OK. They can start educating people about the differences on Saturday, one bowl win at a time.
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