But for Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr., Northern Illinois wasn't their challenge they had already proven their worth. It was more on the Ohio State Buckeyes: The New Class, who needed to come through with a solid effort on its inaugural test.
And though Huskies' running back Garrett Wolfe threw in a couple of trick questions along the way, the young ones passed the test with flying colors in the Buckeyes' 35-12 opening-season win.
After the game, Ohio State was still answering questions correctly, using phrases like “have a lot to prove” and “one game under our belt.”
But every Buckeye knows the final exam comes a bit early this year - and this one will be administered by Dean ‘Horn.
Not that Northern Illinois should be brushed aside. It returned the leading rusher in Division I-A in Wolfe and MAC schools have been known to pull an upset or two. But the way the Ohio State offense steamrolled NIU in the first quarter, Smith leading the way with a smart 134 yards passing and two scores, both to Ginn, it was more like a pop quiz for the Buckeyes. Even better for the nine new starters on defense, the 28-0 cushion gave the newbies some extra credit to work with, even if they did miss a few.
Which, unfortunately, they did.
Twice, Wolfe burned the defense on screen passes and ended with 171 yards rushing and 114 yards receiving. Lucky for OSU, Wolfe was the only real threat the Huskies had all game, but he was real enough to show that The New Class might be a work in progress.
“I think it was good for us to go against a team with tough players like that, just to know what to exact in a game situation,” said senior defensive tackle David Patterson. “For the younger guys, it was great chance for them to see what the tempo of a games like, how physical a game is like and how tough you have to be in a college football game.”
Northern Illinois might be a regular “game situation,” but Texas won't be playing games come next Saturday. The team did lose Vince Young, but there are plenty of Longhorns left licking their chops, ready to show the inexperienced Buckeyes how the game is really played.
Northern Illinois is no pushover. Yes, Smith, Ginn and a host of other Buckeyes, even the younger ones, made the Huskies look like puppies.
But there are some kinks that still need to be worked out, and for the test OSU will take in Austin, the team better be doing some all-night cramming.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.