"They're smart enough to know that if they play good and we play good, they win," Mason said of the Buckeyes. "If we play great and they play bad, we can win. But they're not a No. 1 team that looks like they're ready to get beat."
What figures to be a special homecoming celebration _ at least for everybody but Mason _ will take place Saturday when the Buckeyes welcome the Golden Gophers. At halftime the school will honor members of the national championship team of 1968, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and the unbeaten 1973 team.
Mason, Ohio State '72, knows just about everybody on those two teams.
"I've got a great affection for Ohio State and it's personal," he said. "I'll tell you why: I wouldn't be where I am without The Ohio State University."
"That doesn't mean I don't want to beat them," he continued. "I want to beat them, I'll tell you that. But I love Ohio State."
The Buckeyes are 37 1/2 -point favorites and are playing as if they're going to make their own future homecomings pretty special. They've beaten three nationally ranked teams among their five victims and are averaging 487 yards and 37 points a game while permitting only eight points and 219 yards.
Yet coach John Cooper considers this a work in progress. He's not happy with the Buckeyes in short-yardage situations, with their running game or that quarterback Joe Germaine missed a couple of open receivers in last week's 41-0 nailbiter against Illinois.
But that might just be carping to motivate the Buckeyes. After all, they are converting half of their third-down situations and an alarming 80 percent on fourth down. With teams stacking the line to shut down tailback Michael Wiley, Ohio State is still averaging 219 yards on the ground per game. Germaine is hitting 61 percent of his passes and has a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we don't have to line up and throw the ball quite a few times this weekend," Cooper said. "If we have to throw the ball, we'll throw the ball."
That isn't necessarily bad news, either. Purdue, a pass-happy 3-3 team, lit up the Golden Gophers for 604 passing yards just two weeks ago in a 56-21 laugher.
Mason, who also spent eight years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, knows more than anyone what his team is up against.
"You tell me where they're not good. I've looked. They're a talented, talented team," he said.
The book on Ohio State is to stack the line with eight or nine defenders to try to shut down the run. That means Minnesota cornerbacks Craig Scruggs and Trevis Graham will be one-on-one with the Buckeyes' explosive wide receiver tandem of David Boston and Dee Miller.
"It's like they're saying, 'We know how good they are, but we're going to see if they're that good today,"' Miller said. "After we make some plays, that's when they start changing their game plan and we start smiling a lot."
The other alternative is to play straight up on defense and run the risk of the Buckeyes mixing it up and playing keepaway all day.
"Take your pick. You're going to get beat either way," Ohio State offensive guard Rob Murphy said.
Minnesota hasn't won in Columbus since 1949.
"That's a long time," said Gopher running back and Ohio native Thomas