COLUMBUS - Gary Blackney is a reasonable guy. When the Bowling Green football coach approached Ohio State's John Cooper Saturday afternoon, he asked not for mercy, but for manpower.
''I asked John at the end of the game if we could have some of his fifth-teamers,'' Blackney said. ''He said, 'We'll talk about it later.' I think he was blowing me off.''
As Ohio State begins what is to be an annual annihilation of state schools, rival coaches salivate at the players Cooper must stockpile. The Buckeyes were not brilliant in beating Bowling Green, 44-13, but they were so much larger, so much lighter on their feet and so much more numerous that the outcome was virtually preordained.
''The race is not always to the swiftest,'' a wise man once said, ''but that is the way to bet.''
For 29 misleading minutes, Bowling Green's 38-point underdogs kept pace with the bobbling Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. The Falcons forced - or at least fell on - four first-half fumbles, and trailed by only four points as they prepared to punt with about a minute to play before halftime.
This was when Derek Combs, a fourth-team tailback consigned to the punt return team, sprinted through a hole in the BG line and tackled punter Andy Pollock before he could so much as lift his leg.
On the next play, Cooper's second-string quarterback, Joe Germaine, threw 29 yards to Dee Miller for a touchdown. Whatever delusions Bowling Green might have been entertaining evaporated en route to the dressing room.
''It might take a while to dominate the game,'' said OSU linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. ''But eventually we do.''
No bucking the Buckeyes
An overmatched outfit might compete for a while through a sturdy spirit and superior strategy, but inevitably it is overrun. Remember the Alamo.
''They come out and they play on emotion for the first quarter and a half,'' OSU quarterback Stanley Jackson said of the Falcons. ''They're revved up. And they were playing good for a while. But once we calm ourselves down and do the things we have to do to secure the football ''the game's over.''
Simple as that. As the afternoon progressed, and the talent disparity began to tell, the Falcons faded fast. They would gain only 45 yards in the second half, and were often overwhelmed in the open field, where superior speed can mask inferior execution.
The wondrous Michael Wiley, who averaged 7 yards per carry and also completed a pass, returned Bowling Green's first kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The Buckeyes' David Boston, who had one touchdown nullified because of an illegal block on a punt return, would score twice on pass receptions.
''They were both the same play,'' Stanley Jackson said. ''We've got a guy who's 6-foot-2, runs a 4.4 (40) and jumps out of the gym against a corner that's under 6-foot. What do you do? You throw the fade route.''
Catch them if you can
In moments like these, Saturday's game suggested a gang of neighborhood bullies playing keep-away from younger kids. One of Bowling Green's starting cornerbacks, Tom Gabram of Novelty, Ohio, stands 5-foot-6. Such players are lucky to land a form letter from the big schools.
''There's a definite strength and agility difference,'' OSU guard Ben Gilbert said of the two schools. ''Granted, those are Division I football players and they're real athletic and they try to use their quickness. But eventually, doing all of those quick moves, they're going to get tired.''
Ohio State is not going to lose battles of attrition against the Mid-American Conference, which is one of the reasons it has scheduled this series of September tuneups. Next year, it's Toledo's turn at the $350,000 guarantee, followed by Ohio University, Miami, Akron and Kent State. The University of Cincinnati had scheduled a game in Columbus for 1999, but subsequently canceled.
Given all you're up against at Ohio State, UC's decision was probably shrewd. Asked what advice he would give to other Ohio schools, Bowling Green's Blackney was blunt.
''Take the money,'' he said, ''and forfeit.''