COLUMBUS — Fighting high humidity and temperatures in the 90s, steam was almost rising off the field when the Ohio State football team went through its first official practice Monday.
The Buckeyes, coming off a 12-1 season, sweated through their workout near the remodeled Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
If you can’t stand the heat, get off the practice field, coach Jim Tressel philosophized.
“We play noon games the first two and 12:30 (p.m.) at Washington,” Tressel said. “From what we hear from the grounds people over at the (Ohio) Stadium, you’re talking 130-plus (degrees) on that turf if it’s a hot, sunny, 12-noon game. So we need this heat.”
Ohio Stadium has a new artificial field that retains more heat than the old grass field did. So the coaching staff had been hoping that the weather would turn brutally hot to get players ready for the hot days that undoubtedly lay ahead.
There is plenty of competition for starting spots in camp. The Buckeyes return only four starters on offense and five on defense, but have a solid month of practice to fill out the two-deep lineup.
“What am I most anxious to learn?” Tressel repeated. “Hmm. That’s a good one, because there’s about 4,000 things I’d like to learn.”
The offense must replace the entire backfield, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith and leading rusher Antonio Pittman, along with wide receivers — and NFL first-round draft picks — Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. The holes on defense are up front, where three linemen used up their eligibility, and in the secondary, where Antonio Smith and Brandon Mitchell are gone.
Tressel is hoping that he gets a good, long look at all four of his quarterback candidates. Todd Boeckman is the nominal starter for now, with Robbie Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton fighting it out for the backup spot.
Another intriguing possibility is Joe Bauserman, a Tallahassee, Fla. native who committed to Ohio State in 2003 but chose to play professional baseball instead.
Bauserman had not practiced with the Buckeyes yet because he had not signed his national letter of intent. But that obstacle has now been cleared and he will be taking some snaps in the upcoming weeks.
“He had to work out on his own, but, shoot, he made every run,” Tressel said of Monday’s conditioning tests. “He said he could have gone more. He did a good job working to come in in good condition. So I’m anxious to watch him as well.”
Ohio State was No. 1 all last season from the preseason until a 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS National Championship game.
One thing that has impressed Tressel thus far has been his players’ work ethic.
“They’ve been a blue-collar group,” he said. “They don’t ask questions. They go to work, they do what the coaches ask of them, they dig right in. I think they want to be a good team.”
The Buckeyes were picked to finish third in the Big Ten’s preseason balloting, behind Michigan and Wisconsin.
Ohio State opens its 118th season on Sept. 1 at home against NCAA Division I-AA Youngstown State.