Buckeyes Say They've Got Different Approach This Year

Players changed their ways in their return to this year's BCS title game

Jan. 5, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Right up to the final game of last season, everyone considered Ohio State the best college football team in the land - including the Buckeyes.

My, how one game and one season have changed all that.

Just like a year ago, the Buckeyes are No. 1 and headed for the national championship game on Monday night against LSU.

However, this year's team isn't nearly so brash. Nor is anyone making the case it belongs with the greatest college teams ever, as was the case 365 days ago.

After getting thumped 41-14 by Florida, an outcome and margin which absolutely stunned the Buckeyes and their faithful, players have taken a different approach to their return to this year's BCS title game at the Superdome.

"Last year, I think we were a little overconfident and didn't play our best game. This year, we have to make sure we're ready," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We feel we're not invincible. Last year, we thought no team in the nation could beat us. This year, we know if we don't play our best game, we can get beat."

The 2006 Buckeyes were stocked with cocky veterans, assured they were good and backed by voters who had said they were No. 1 since August.

They had already beaten two of their top challengers, both ranked No. 2 at the time: Texas in Austin back in September, and then rival Michigan at home in late November.

In the month of December, quarterback Troy Smith and several others crisscrossed the country attending awards banquets, giving interviews and being told how great they were.

Four Buckeyes juniors filed the paperwork to get a draft evaluation from the NFL, and three eventually left early including tailback Antonio Pittman and wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. Several seniors openly talked about their pro prospects and what the future might hold.

No one could blame 21-year-olds for being swayed by all that talk.

Some of the holdovers say last year's team grew fat and happy during the 51-day layoff leading up to the national championship game. Some say their teammates didn't work out as hard as before and that the team's focus drifted among all the distractions and hype.



"Complacency was maybe an issue last year. We were satisfied with what we'd accomplished," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "Everyone was saying that Michigan-Ohio State was the national championship and there should be a rematch of the same two teams.

"I think we thought we'd already played the best team (in the country). So going into that (Florida) game I don't think we had the same focus and drive, and thought we were invincible a little bit."

The Buckeyes bounced back nicely, however, winning their first 10 games this season and confounding their critics by returning to the top spot in the BCS and all the other rankings.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to perfection - a 28-21 setback at home to unranked Illinois on Nov. 10.

That defeat may well have slapped the Buckeyes awake.

"Obviously we don't think we're invincible this year because Illinois got us already," Laurinaitis said. "We know LSU is a great team. There is no overlooking anybody."

Coach Jim Tressel said Saturday he was pleased with the way the team has practiced in New Orleans and is satisfied with the mental approach as the game draws near.

"I think it's been very good. Very good," he said.

Clearly the coaching staff, captains and upperclassmen have gone to great lengths to guard against a repeat of last January's debacle in the desert.

"This year, I think, we're a lot more focused," tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells said. "We're not 12-0 as we were last year. We're 11-1 and we know what it feels like to lose. We don't like that feeling at all and we don't want to feel that on the way home."

That would be an especially long journey - for the second year in a row.