OSU wants to change rankings perception

Published 12:14 am Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is aware of all the snickering taking place behind his back, directed at his team’s miserable failures in recent big games.

It seems many college football fans and media observers consider the Buckeyes a bunch of overrated chokers who cannot compete with the nation’s best teams. They’ve come to that conclusion because the Buckeyes have played poorly in four nationally televised games over the past three seasons.

But Tressel doesn’t feel any personal pressure to deliver a win when the Buckeyes take on Texas in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.

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‘‘If we do, that will be wonderful. It won’t change my life,’’ he said during the team’s bowl preparations. ‘‘If we don’t, that will be disappointing, but it won’t change my life. You might write some bad things about me, but I’ll get over it. So, no, I don’t feel a pressure.’’

The players are well aware that most of America has little respect for them.

‘‘We’re always a great program and we have great talent,’’ safety Kurt Coleman said of the public perception of the Buckeyes. ‘‘The last two years, we haven’t shown up the way we needed to. I think this year it’s a whole new team, we’re out there playing Texas on the 5th and it’ll be a great game. I think we’ll be able to change the perception then.’’

The case against the Buckeyes begins with the 2006 national title game, when Florida dominated in every dimension while pounding Ohio State 41-14. With a cocky, talented lineup that included Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, the Buckeyes were actually favored going into that landslide loss.

Then came last year, when the Buckeyes muddled through a mediocre schedule, losing their final home game to Illinois. They were No. 8 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings after that setback, but then all the tumblers started to fall into place for them. As one team after another in front of them lost, they climbed until they were No. 1 in the final BCS rankings, earning a spot opposite a two-loss LSU team in the national championship game.

However, the Buckeyes fell to 0-9 against Southeastern Conference teams in the BCS title game, losing 38-24 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate. They led 10-0 and scored the final touchdown, meaning they were outscored 38-7 the rest of the game.

The disappointments kept coming this season.

Ohio State faced only two teams comparable in talent, and lost both times. The fifth-ranked Buckeyes were humiliated 35-3 in a much anticipated showdown in Los Angeles against then-No. 1 Southern California on Sept. 13. They were without top rusher Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells, who was out with a foot injury, but were badly beaten in every facet after taking a 3-0 lead.

They came back to win their next five games to get back to No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25, only to lose at home to then-No. 3 Penn State, 13-6. In that game, Ohio State had great difficulty moving the ball because of the inefficiency of freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a stilted game plan, while Penn State lost its starting quarterback (Daryll Clark) but backup Pat Devlin (who has since announced he’s transferring) led the Nittany Lions to 10 points in the final 6:25.

So the Buckeyes enter the Fiesta Bowl as an afterthought. Their opponent is a team that many consider the best in the country but which was deprived of a shot at the national title because of the vagaries of the BCS.

No wonder oddsmakers have tabbed the Longhorns as an 8 1/2-point favorite.

The Buckeyes say they are tired of all the putdowns and slights.

‘‘If you have enough people saying negative things and they’re trying to back you down in a corner or make you feel small, I think that is when animals or people alike are dangerous,’’ Ohio State punter A.J. Trapasso said. ‘‘They’re saying that this Fiesta Bowl is the final time for us to get blown out and how it will not be much of a game, but I think people will be surprised how hard we will come out.’’