CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's what you need to know about Joe Biden's debate prep: The vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., doesn't take place until Oct. 11, more than a month away, but Biden already has put in 60 hours of prep time.

When Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was chosen to be Mitt Romney's running mate, the instant conventional wisdom was that the 42-year-old, sharp-tongued budget wonk would make quick work of the 69-year-old vice president.

After all, Biden is famously loquacious and capable of veering disastrously off-message, and Ryan, a generation younger, has honed his arguing skills for the last decade in ferocious and detailed combat on economic policy, spending numbers and economic theory.

Biden's situation heading into the debate is the reverse of that in 2008. Back then, it was assumed he would trounce the ill-prepared and intermittently educated Sarah Palin, but her theatrical skills and low expectations worked in her favor, and she more than survived the encounter.

This time, the expectations are reversed but perhaps should not be.

First, there is the format and the host. Half of the debate is on foreign policy, arguably Biden's strongest area of expertise as the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The moderator is Martha Raddatz of ABC News, a premier foreign and State Department correspondent who has interviewed Biden many times over the years.

Second, there is Biden's own considerable debating experience in a long Senate career.

And third, there is his personal sense of being underestimated intellectually, which has always fueled him and often caused him to prepare harder than anyone else in the room -- even if his gift of gab sometimes undercuts him.

"He is working very hard," said one of his aides.

Biden's main partner in debate prep is David Ginsberg, a former director of opposition research for Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 who has gone on to major political consulting jobs and is now head of research for the Intel Corp. Known for his tough, smart "oppo" work, he will be mining the rich vein of statements and actions by Rep. Ryan over the years.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has gone up against Ryan in numerous House disputes, will play him in the mock debates. The Maryland Democrat will provide a good simulation experience.

And Biden already has spent 60 hours on reading materials and bits and scraps of expected exchanges with Ryan.

When he's on, Biden can be brilliant -- and even succinct. His summary of the president's case, "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," is probably the best of the campaign so far.

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    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 23, 2010) --</strong></a> As President Barack Obama prepared to announce the passage of his landmark health care legislation, Vice President Joe Biden had a memorable slip of the tongue, dropping an F-bomb on live television. "This is a big f*ck*ng deal," he said. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • "Cleanin' Out My Closet" (Eminem)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(March 28, 2011) --</strong></a> A journalist covering Biden's appearance at a Florida fundraiser found himself in a sticky spot. The vice president's communications staff kept <em>Orlando sentinel</em> reporter Scott Powers in a closet prior to Biden's speech for Bill Nelson. The VP's team offered its "sincere apologies" to Powers "for the lack of a better hold room." (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • "Sleeping With The Television On" (Billy Joel)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 13, 2011) -- </strong></a> Was Biden catching some z's? Cameras appeared to catch the vice president dozing during President Obama's speech at George Washington University.

  • "Save Me, San Francisco" (Train)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 19, 2012) --</strong></a> During a speech in San Francisco, Biden made an embarrassing error with the city's sports teams. In advance of the 49ers' NFC Championship game with the New York Giants, Biden said: "The Giants [are] on their way to the Super Bowl." His confusion possibly stemmed from the fact that the San Francisco's Major League baseball team is also called the Giants. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • "Thanks For The Memories" (Fall Out Boy)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(March 28, 2012) --</strong></a> While campaigning in Iowa, Biden blasted GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's record on jobs. He charged that Romney is "consistently wrong" on manufacturing, pointing to a photo album factory that closed under Bain Capital's watch. "Mitt, thanks for the memories," Biden quipped. (Photo by Andrea Melendez-Pool/Getty Images)

  • "Say My Name" (Destiny's Child)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(March 28, 2012) --</strong></a> On another Iowa campaign stop, Biden flubbed the name of a local school leader, referring to Scott Community College President Dr. Theresa Paper as "Dr. Pepper." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • "Feeling Good" (Michael Bublé)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 6, 2012) --</strong></a> In an interview with NBC's "Meet The Press," Biden announced his support for gay marriage. "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties," he said.

  • "Trouble" (Coldplay)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 10, 2012) --</strong></a> Immediately before Obama revealed his own support for <a href="" target="_hplink">gay marriage</a>, Biden apologized to the president for making his announcement ahead of the president's moment. The AP reported that the duo met in the Oval Office, where Obama accepted Biden's apology, knowing that the VP was speaking from his heart. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • "Feel Like Makin' Love" (Bad Company)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(July 11, 2012) --</strong></a> At the National Council of La Raza's annual conference, Biden turned heads with a sex joke surrounding his home life growing up. "By the way -- having your grandpop living with you, having your great aunt, your uncle, for real," Biden remarked. "Those walls were awful thin. I wonder how the hell my parents did it. But that's a different story." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • "The Chain" (Fleetwood Mac)

    <a href="" target="_hplink"><strong>(August 14, 2012) --</strong></a> At a campaign rally in Virginia, Biden accused Romney of looking to loosen regulations on Wall Street. "They're going to put y'all back in chains," Biden told the crowd, turning heads. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said the comment was "not acceptable in our political discourse," while Maryland Gov. <a href="" target="_hplink">Martin O'Malley</a> added that it was an "indelicate choice of words."