Buckeyes ready to join elite?
Thing is, the Buckeyes’ coach doesn’t want them to give it a second thought.
Only Woody Hayes’ powerhouse Ohio State teams of 1972-77 ever captured all or a piece of six straight Big Ten Conference titles. The Buckeyes, winners of three outright and two shared titles in the last five years, could do it again this fall.
Coach Jim Tressel, entering his 10th year at Ohio State, is wary of using a Buckeye Six-Pack as motivation.
“It might mean something to that guy who’s been here four or five years,” he said. Then he added, “If that becomes a focal point at all, I’m sure that’s not the way any of us should be thinking.”
To Tressel, looking ahead spells doom.
The Buckeyes are stacked with talent, with nine starters back on offense and five on defense. The schedule isn’t a killer, despite the dangerous Miami Hurricanes coming to Columbus in Week 2, along with road tests against conference bullies Iowa and Wisconsin.
But Tressel says it’s far too early to start comparing his current Buckeyes with those legendary teams from the ’70s that included Archie Griffin, Pete Johnson, Cornelius Greene, Tom Cousineau and Tim Fox.
“You have those discussions about streaks and accomplishments and all those kinds of things when seasons are over, and hopefully not during them,” he said.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, coming off an MVP performance in the Rose Bowl, believes he and his teammates not only have the talent but the togetherness to make it six in a row.
“If you’re willing to make that play for the guy next to you, that’s the biggest thing,” said the junior. “We compete like crazy here,and we’re all willing to get better.
“Guys are always out after the workouts, doing extra lifting and doing extra running and just getting their technique down. Stuff like that. Working on their hands, guys catching 500 balls a week.”
Pryor had an up-and-down 2009 season, stepping into the background to hand off to running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron after injuring a knee late in the year. Athroscopic surgery in February cleaned up the knee and has him bristling to get going this fall.
“It’s night-and-day from last year until now,” he said. “It’s amazing to me and I’m just getting anxious.”
Pryor became the first Ohio State quarterback to lead the team in rushing since the school started keeping records in the 1940s. He also completed 57 percent of his passes for 161 yards a game, along with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions overall.
He may be the triggerman, but he has lots surrounding him. His top receivers are both back. DeVier Posey had 60 catches for 838 yards and eight touchdowns, with Dane Sanzenbacher adding 36 receptions for 570 yards (15.8 per catch) and six scores.
Saine (739 yards, 5.1 per carry) and Herron (600 yards, 3.9 per) also return. So does fullback Zach Boren, linemen J.B. Shugarts, Bryant Browning, Mike Brewster and Zach’s big brother, Justin Boren. That leaves just one spot in the line, the one filled last year by left tackle Jim Cordle, and the tight end spot vacated by Jake Ballard, to be filled.
There are more losses on defense, but the core players return. Cameron Heyward will anchor the line from his end spot, from which he had 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for minus yardage in last year’s 11-2 season. Mobile and active Ross Homan and Brian Rolle are back for their senior seasons at linebacker. Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence once again hold down the corner positions.
Tressel will rely on promising but unproven young players such as John Simon, Solomon Thomas and Nathan Williams up front, Etienne Sabino in the linebacker spot held by the graduated Austin Spitler, and Jermale Hines and Orhian Johnson, among others, plugging the holes at safety.
“As excited as I am about the older group, the younger guys are an unknown,” said Tressel, 94-21 overall and 59-13 in the Big Ten during his Ohio State tenure. “I think they’re talented. I think our biggest concern is still figuring out who we are as a whole. I think we know who we are from a core, but who are we as a whole group?”
After a Thursday night opener against Marshall on Sept. 2, the Buckeyes host those ’Canes in the first of a home-and-home series on Sept. 11. They open Big Ten play against Illinois and Indiana before a big test at Wisconsin and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay. Purdue, which stunned the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, Ind., last year, comes next, this time at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State closes out the year with home games against Penn State and Michigan, with a major showdown at Iowa in between.
This is the last go-round for the 11-team Big Ten, with Nebraska joining the conference in 2011. This also is the final year before divisional play and a conference championship game.
Even though he hopes his team doesn’t dwell on extending its string of Big Ten titles, Tressel knows that the rest of the conference is tired of watching the Buckeyes walk off with the biggest trophy.
“We’re very aware that the Big Ten is anxious to have someone else be the champion,” he said.
But more people aren’t expecting that to happen.
OSU to host Buffaloes
Ohio State will pay Colorado $1.4 million to come to Ohio Stadium next season and play the Buckeyes.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed on Tuesday that the Buffaloes will visit Columbus to meet the Buckeyes on Sept. 24, 2011.
Ohio State usually pays between $400,000 and $750,000 for nonconference games with no return visit to the opponents’ stadium.
Colorado has been strapped for cash and could be facing a multimillion dollar exit fee if it wants to move from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 next season.
It will be the fifth meeting between the two schools and third in Columbus. Ohio State is 3-1 against Colorado.