COLUMBUS — As the weeks pass with Ohio State riding the crest of the polls and the BCS rankings, the Buckeyes are growing tired of hearing about why they don’t deserve to be No. 1.
“The polls are saying we’re No. 1 and the people are saying we’re not,” tight end Rory Nichol said Tuesday.
The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) are growing aggravated that no matter what they do seems to be downgraded or dismissed. They’re tired of all the talk about how bad the Big Ten is or how weak their schedule has been.
All they’ve done is beat everybody they’ve played. Along the way, they’ve come to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, they might be the best team in the land.
They also recognize that coming to terms with how good they are also opens the door for them to take a big fall.
“You hear a lot about it. Everybody talks about it, ‘Hey, we’re still No. 1,”’ linebacker Marcus Freeman said. “We’ve been here for two or three weeks now. But we have to realize that there’s a bull’s eye that comes with being No. 1. Instead of trying to climb the charts you’re at the top and everybody’s going to try to shoot for you. You have to be ready to defend your ranking each week.”
Heading into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2), the Buckeyes are growing in confidence but not overconfident.
“Well, you don’t want complacency to creep into anything,” coach Jim Tressel said. “I don’t know that I sensed that as we went to work Sunday. I think the fact that it’s Wisconsin coming in here and we know how good they are, that can nip any complacency. If you do have some (complacency), you’ll probably get it knocked out of you in the first three minutes.”
Or the next three games.
There are three games left on the schedule for the Buckeyes, just three games to win to get back to the Bowl Championship Series title game. After Wisconsin, they welcome Illinois (6-3) and then head for The Big House to meet rival Michigan (7-2), possibly with another Big Ten title hanging in the balance.
The biggest reason why so many are critical of Ohio State is because of what happened in last year’s championship, when the Buckeyes entered as the acclaimed No. 1 team against once-beaten Florida. They left with a humiliating 41-14 defeat.
“Well, we lost on the biggest stage you can be on. We got beat pretty bad, too,” Nichol said. “So people are going to have that opinion until we can prove them otherwise. But everybody’s waiting for us to slip. It’s our job to just keep doing it, one game at a time, one game at a time. Eventually you end up wherever (in a bowl), and then you’ve got to prove it in that game.”
Like most college players, the Buckeyes are intrigued by the BCS rankings and possible bowl matchups. They see that Boston College is No. 2 in the BCS, followed by LSU, Arizona State, Oregon and Oklahoma.
They know that the top two teams in the rankings advance to the national title game on Jan. 7 at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
“You try not to pay attention to it but people have to realize that we’re college football fans, not just college football players,” Freeman said. “We want to see who’s below us. We want to see Oregon vs. Arizona State, Cal vs. Oregon. Those big games. We know that LSU is below us and those teams are going to have huge games. You also pay attention to who’s coming up the charts and who do we have a chance of playing if we make it all the way.”
The Buckeyes had a 51-day layoff between beating Michigan and playing Florida in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz. During that lengthy delay, they had a lot of time to grow apart and to dwell on NFL careers, their private lives, their grades and futures.
“I think if you really analyzed it and gave a lie detector to every one of us, we might have said, you know what, we might not have been as focused on the task at hand every second as we could have been,” said Tressel, who added he didn’t want to shortchange Florida for the lopsided defeat. “We did not do as well as we could do. That typically to me is a little bit of a lack of focus. Or maybe (we) were a little complacent.”
Asked if the Buckeyes and the coaching staff had learned from what happened a year ago, Tressel added, “You would hope. Absolutely.”
NOT A LONESOME END: Wide receiver Brian Robiskie was announced Tuesday as one of 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the best receiver in college football.
Three other Big Ten players — Purdue’s Dorien Bryan, Michigan’s Mario Manningham and Indiana’s James Hardy — are also on the list.
BADGERS IN BUCKEYELAND: Ohio State holds a 50-17-4 record in the series with Wisconsin (noon, Saturday), but the teams are
5-5-1 since 1980. The Badgers are 7-26-3 in Columbus — but have won the last three meetings at Ohio Stadium.
FLYING BOONE: Left tackle Alex Boone — all 6-foot-8, 313 pounds of him — was an excitable boy after wide receiver Brian Hartline’s
16-yard touchdown pass from Todd Boeckman in Saturday’s 37-17 win at Penn State.
An exultant Boone jumped all over the other, smaller celebrants in the end zone. Tight end Rory Nichol is worried that if Boone doesn’t tone it down, he could end up hurting somebody — sort of like what wide receiver Roy Hall did when he tackled Ted Ginn Jr. (injuring Ginn’s ankle) after Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in last year’s title game.
“It’s good he gets excited when we score,” Nichol said of Boone. “I guess the thing is, in all honesty, there is a line that you can’t cross. We all saw what happened to Teddy. Maybe Tres is going to sit him down one of these days and be like, ‘Listen, just go hit their heads, tap them on the butts.’”