Tressel takes notice of rankings

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2003

COLUMBUS - The Bowl Championship Series standings have finally grabbed Jim Tressel's attention.

Throughout last season the Ohio State coach said he had no idea where his team was ranked by the BCS, even as the Buckeyes climbed the charts and eventually earned a spot in the national championship game. The No. 2 Buckeyes beat No. 1 Miami 31-24 in the Fiesta Bowl to capture their first No. 1 ranking in 34 years.

Again this season, Tressel has sworn he remained oblivious to where his Buckeyes are ranked in the polls or by the BCS.

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But that changed when Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State - all ahead of the Buckeyes a week ago in the BCS rankings - lost over the weekend to fall out of the race for the national championship, held this year at the Sugar Bowl.

''We're third,'' Tressel declared Tuesday with a wide grin. ''I did my homework.''

For the Buckeyes to get a shot at defending their title, they must win their remaining two games. Then they must hope they can slide by No. 1 Oklahoma or No. 2 Southern Cal in the combination of computer ratings and polls that make up the BCS rankings and determine the opponents in the national title game.

''My take is this: There's no way we can go up if we don't win,'' Tressel said.

The Buckeyes, No. 4 in The Associated Press poll, host No. 11 Purdue on Saturday then travel to No. 5 Michigan in the annual rivalry on Nov. 22.

''(The BCS) is in the back of your mind,'' tight end Ben Hartsock said. ''But you can only concern yourself with so many things before the law of diminishing returns starts coming into play. We've got a lot on our plate right now. It's totally cliche, but we can't let ourselves become overly engulfed in that. We need a couple of things to go our way.''

Top-ranked Oklahoma has games remaining at home against Baylor and Texas Tech before playing in the Big 12 championship game. No. 2 Southern Cal plays at Arizona, then home against UCLA and Oregon State.

Offensive lineman Shane Olivea said if the Buckeyes win their final two games, they deserve to be in the title game ahead of Southern Cal.

''Purdue right now is No. 10 and Michigan is No. 5. Those are better than a UCLA and an Oregon State win,'' he said. ''If we win out and they win out, I don't understand how you can keep the defending national champion out. How could we not defend our title?''

Tressel said he didn't think his players were concerned about the national championship yet.

''We all feel the same way - we don't care who puts us where, who ranks us where because right now we're at a point where we know if we don't go out and handle our business against two of the best teams in the country, then it definitely doesn't matter,'' quarterback Craig Krenzel said Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes are tied for the Big Ten lead heading into the final two weeks and must win both games to be assured their first outright conference title in almost two decades.

''Someone asked me have I heard the players talking about it (the BCS),'' Tressel said. ''And I said, you know, I have to be honest with you, the thing I've heard the players talk about is the fact that we have not been the outright Big Ten champions since 1984.

''I haven't heard any of them talk about where we are in the BCS. But I don't mind the fact that people are talking about it outside of our locker room, because that means we still have a chance.''

Like a tailback avoiding an arm tackle, Tressel ducks questions dealing with the polls and rankings. He votes in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, but won't disclose where he lists teams - even his own - on his ballot.

After twice saying he didn't know how he voted this week, he joked, ''Are you going to get me fired off the ESPN poll? Maybe I should say I can't remember.''

Tressel said he relies on his coaching staff to fill out his ballot.

In his third year at Ohio State, Tressel spent the previous 15 years as the head coach at Youngstown State. Four times the Penguins won national championships in the I-AA playoffs.

He said his Youngstown State players closely watched the rankings that determine the playoff teams.

''Come November, you had to find out if you were going to be in the top 16 and have a chance to make a run at it,'' he said.

But under the current system, he said the Buckeyes cannot afford to look at the big picture as long as the Purdue game is just days away.

''Is it a good thing that (the BCS) is talked about? Absolutely,'' Tressel said. ''It's just not a good thing if our players are talking about it. They need to be thinking about Purdue. They need to leave that for someone else, just like the coaches do.''