Ohio State and Oregon have quite a few things in common. Both public schools are the largest institutions of higher learning in the largest cities of their respective states – both of which start with the letter “O.”

Other things these teams have in common include tough losses early in the season, a conference championship, a 10-2 record, a Top 10 ranking in the final polls, a loss to a major private school based in California and a long gap between Rose Bowl berths. Oh, not to mention, both teams also played USC this season – each game took place when USC was ranked in the Top 5.

Of course, both teams are also playing in the latest edition of the Rose Bowl.

The similarities end there, as the Ohio State Buckeyes bring a diametrically opposite brand of football to Pasadena, with the more traditional Jim Tressel pitting his deliberate offense against the high-octane machine of Chip Kelly’s Ducks.

Despite a 13-year absence from the Granddaddy of Them All, the Buckeyes feel rather good about their chances to repeat what they did back in 1997, when Ohio State narrowly defeated Arizona State, 20-17, in that year’s Rose Bowl. The question for Tressel and his Big 10 champion Buckeyes is whether the team’s six-week gap between games will have a significant impact on Ohio State’s game action on Jan. 1, what with the Columbus-based team not playing since defeating Michigan in Ann Arbor, 21-10, Nov. 21.

If anything, the Buckeyes just hope their defense is not rusty. When fully-functioning, the Buckeye defense is a force to be reckoned with; Ohio State allowed just 146 points (12.2 per game) this season, allowing 13 or less points in seven games (including three shutouts and two one-score games).

However, the defense was slightly questionable early in the season, as the Buckeyes opened against two tough opponents at home – Navy and USC. After narrowly escaping the Midshipmen, 31-27, in the season-opener in Columbus Sept. 5, Ohio State’s defense could not protect a late-game lead against USC in an 18-15 loss Sept. 12.

Opening the season ranked sixth in both the AP and Coaches Polls, the 1-1 Buckeyes dropped to No. 11 in those same polls heading into a mid-September match-up against Toledo. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor gave Ohio State the boost it needed, helping his Buckeyes torch the Rockets for 38 points. On the other side of the ball, the Buckeye defense completely shut down a Toledo offense that averaged 42 points per game coming into the contest; Ohio State’s 38-0 victory was its first shutout since Aug. 30, 2008.

The defense continued to roll the following week, as Ohio State defeated Illinois, 30-0, in Columbus. It was the first time since 1996 the Buckeyes had back-to-back shutout victories.

Tressel’s defense extended its shutout streak to nine quarters before finally allowing a touchdown score in the second frame against Indiana Oct. 3. The Buckeyes won that game easily, 33-14, before returning home to handily defeat Wisconsin, 31-13.

On Oct. 17, the Buckeyes hit a speed bump in West Lafayette, with both the offense and defense failing to show up in a 26-18 loss to Purdue. The game was a lot more lopsided than the score revealed; the Boilermakers once had a 23-7 lead.

Dropping to No. 18 in the AP Poll (No. 17 in Coaches), the Buckeyes responded by outscoring their next three opponents by 93 points, with victories over Minnesota (38-7), New Mexico State (45-0) and No. 11 Penn State (24-7). Moving up in the rankings, the Buckeyes hosted No. 10 Iowa on Nov. 14 with an automatic BCS bowl game berth and at least a share of the Big 10 title on the line. In a hard-fought game, Ohio State prevailed, 27-24, in overtime. Ohio State finished the season securing its Rose Bowl bid and its Big 10 title with a 21-10 victory over archrival Michigan at the Big House.

Finishing 2009 as the No. 8 team in the nation, Ohio State needs to do in the Rose Bowl what it did best to get there – play defense. This season, the Buckeyes were second in the nation in passes intercepted (23) and sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times.

Accordingly, Tressel needs his Buckeyes to swarm Jeremiah Masoli at the line while protecting the secondary – something Ohio State proved it is capable of doing.

The only possible distractions for Ohio State are ineligible players Duron Carter (team’s fourth receiver) and defensive end Robert Rose (10 tackles, two sacks); both were held from the game for academic issues, according to ESPN.com.

Still, if Tressel’s team remains an underdog (Oregon opened as a 3.5-point favorite, according to BetUS.com), Ohio State will probably have a chip on its shoulder and play motivated. If the Buckeye defense can slow the Duck offense, Ohio State may overcome the opening point spread and defeat Oregon.