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Buckeyes trying not to look past Herd to Miami

COLUMBUS — Ohio State free safety Jermale Hines can’t help it. While everyone cautions him to take the schedule in sequence, he can’t keep from peeking into the future.

A week after the Buckeyes’ season-opener on Sept. 2 against Marshall, they take on the Miami Hurricanes in one of the most anticipated games of the season.

Asked about the biggest game on the 2010 schedule — other than a date with rival Michigan at the end — he makes it clear that he’s no different than a lot of other college football fans.

“The Miami game. It has to be the Miami game,” Hines said. “A big challenge right out of the gate, and we’ll see how we handle it.”

The Buckeyes and ’Canes will have a lot riding on that Sept. 11 showdown in Ohio Stadium. No wonder the game has created so much buzz among many who consider it an early season gauge of both teams’ national title hopes.

“It’s easy for lots of people to make those generalizations,” coach Jim Tressel said of the Hurricane hype.

While Tressel is wary of a Marshall team that has a new head coach (Doc Holliday), a lot of new faces blended with a herd of veterans (13 returning starters), and a fresh attitude coming off a 7-6 season, he also is aware of the allure of such a huge game coming so early.

His main complaint with playing resurgent Miami is the timing.

“I don’t know what it is with us but it seems like when we schedule these home-and-homes with folks outside the region, we seem to wait until they’re starting to peak to have them on our schedule,” Tressel said, half-joking. “Obviously that’s going to be a good one.”

The Buckeyes open with four home games — following the first two with Mid-American Conference members Ohio and Eastern Michigan — before playing eight games in the final year of the Big Ten’s current configuration. Ohio State hits the road to Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, alternating with home games against Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Michigan.

Some of the current Buckeyes are already looking forward to the 2011 season, when Nebraska joins the Big Ten. That will also be the first year for divisional play and a conference championship game.

“It’s a unique situation,” quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. “We always take one day at a time and not worry about what’s ahead. But speaking ahead a little bit, next year there’ll be a championship. It would be interesting if we were in that.”

As for this year, there will be plenty of opponents to grab the Buckeyes’ attention.

Iowa and Wisconsin are figured to be right behind the Buckeyes in most of the preseason predictions of the Big Ten arms race. A year ago, Purdue hung a 26-18 stunner on Ohio State, so the rematch in Columbus should be noteworthy.

The Buckeyes draw a bye on Nov. 6, just in time to prepare for a difficult home stretch that includes bookend games at Ohio Stadium against Penn State and Michigan, sandwiched around the big conference clash at Iowa.

The whole thing wraps up with the 107th meeting with Michigan on Nov. 27 — Ohio State’s latest regular-season finale since beating the Pre-Flight Iowa Seahawks 41-12 on Nov. 28, 1942.

The Buckeyes also got a break. In the Big Ten’s rotating schedule, they do not play two teams deemed to be in the top tier in the conference: Michigan State and Northwestern.

Taken as a whole, there aren’t a whole lot of breathers, in Tressel’s opinion.

“We’ve got some tough ones at home and a brutal road schedule,” he said. “So, I think it’s a great schedule from a standpoint of if we’re going to be good we’re going to have to be good. It’s going to be a good preparation.”

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are having difficulty sticking with the party line of preparing only for the next game.

“I know everyone wants me to say (I’m looking forward to) the Miami game, but I haven’t really had a start yet, so I’m really looking forward to this Marshal game,” strong safety Orhian Johnson said, struggling to say the right thing. “But … of course Miami. Miami is somebody I’m looking forward to playing.”