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Tressel must make decision soon on Clarett

COLUMBUS - The clock is ticking on Maurice Clarett's availability for Ohio State's season opener.

Coach Jim Tressel said on Saturday that the time is drawing near when he will have to make a decision on whether Clarett can play when the Buckeyes host Washington on Aug. 30.

''The game's getting closer. Absolutely,'' Tressel said after a full-dress team scrimmage at Ohio Stadium.

Clarett, Ohio State's record-setting running back, is being held out of preseason workouts while he is investigated by an Ohio State committee and the NCAA.

The 10-person university committee is looking into allegations of preferential treatment for Clarett and other athletes in the classroom, while the NCAA is investigating an exaggerated police report that Clarett gave to campus police after his car was burglarized in April.

Maurice Hall, who has a bum right knee, saw some action during the scrimmage. The other backup tailback, Lydell Ross, watched from the sideline while nursing a pulled quadriceps muscle.

Freshmen and walk-ons saw most of the activity. The Buckeyes ran roughly 100 plays on the steamy day.

Clarett is considered one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates after rushing for 1,237 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns a year ago as the Buckeyes went 14-0 and won the national championship.

Earlier Saturday, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 in the initial preseason Associated Press poll. They were ranked No. 13 in last year's first poll.

Tressel said if there is no resolution of Clarett's situation, the coach will eventually have to make a decision about whether the sophomore-to-be can play.

''We haven't put a date on it but - what do we have 13 days of work left before we play? - the day's coming,'' he said.

Tressel said it was imperative that all players be in proper condition before being cleared to play against the Huskies.

''I would think that everyone who is going to play significantly in a ball game like that has to be prepared physically,'' he said. ''That's why you have preseason, to get guys ready so that when they go out there healthwise it's the best thing for them. I get nervous about a lot of the guys who maybe haven't had as much work as we like.''

Clarett, banned from all team activities, has been working out on his own.

Tressel said it was unlikely that any player could be in game condition after spending only a handful of days working out with the team.

''It would be real hard. Real hard,'' he said.

Tressel said there was no substitute for contact and game conditions.

''Football is football. Running and lifting is the closest thing we can get to it, but it's not football,'' he said.

He said it was not possible for a player to be physically ready for a game without working out with the team.

Meanwhile, Hall said his knee was sound but that he and team doctors were trying to be cautious by limiting his playing time.

If Clarett is not available, Hall said he felt he and Ross were up to the challenge of doing what the coaching staff wants the running backs to do.

''Regardless of whether (Clarett) is here or not, they're always going to depend on the running backs - whoever it is - to carry the load,'' Hall said. ''So, if he's here, they're going to depend on us although maybe not as much. If he's not here then, they'll depend on us a little more. We've got to be prepared for that - and we are.''