Buckeyes will be favored

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Last updated: 05/16/2013 4:24 AM
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Football
Buckeyes Can't Get Comfortable With Life as Favorites
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There aren't many ways to better a 12-0 record for the Buckeyes. In fact there are only two ways – there is 13-0, and there is 14-0. There will also soon be 15-0, but we don't have to worry about that quite yet.

Fans are already looking at 14-0 with wide, wanting eyes, like a hungry dog window-shopping at a steakhouse.

But it's not just the fans who have high expectations. When the preseason magazines start rolling out in the next week or so, the Buckeyes are going to be in everybody's top five.

There are already national pundits pitting Ohio State against Alabama in the BCS National Championship. When the polls are finally released later this summer, it is expected that the Buckeyes will be #2 behind the Crimson Tide.

Looking at the Ohio State schedule, there is a very good chance that they will be favored in every game this season. That's all well and good for fans to talk about, but it's a topic that the team itself should steer clear of.

Tim Hinton
Tim Hinton

"Coach Meyer uses the term all the time, the 'Human Element'," explained tight ends coach Tim Hinton.

"There will be all kinds of publications that come out, all kinds of media, and all of a sudden you have a guy, and I'll use Jeff Heuerman because he's one of my guys, Jeff Heuerman turns on all the different magazines and all the different predictors, and there's only pictures of certain players and his name is not mentioned a lot. Is Jeff Heuerman going to get all bent out of shape because he's an integral part of the game? That human element of 'Why aren't they talking about me?' That's what destroys teams internally.

"Honestly, we have to be bigger than that. The whole idea is that it doesn't matter what anybody says, doesn't matter what all goes down. Bottom line is every day work to be better, and every day work to be a champion, and every day demand from yourself, and it will all work and play out, but don't worry about who gets success, who's getting publicized, who's not, because we'll all have the same reward, and we'll also all have the same bitter taste in defeat."

Each week's burden is sufficiently difficult, whether the Buckeyes are heavily favored or not. They can only play one opponent at a time, after all. No matter how quickly they want to get to 12-0 again, it will still take them 14 weeks to get there.

The Buckeyes did a tremendous job of staying focused last season, but then they had nothing to distract them. There was no postseason, and there was no pressure. They could simply go out and play. That experience should be something that they draw on this season, but will they?

Just because Ohio State might have more talent than their opponents doesn't mean the cliches of 'one day at a time' simply don't apply. It will be up to the coaches to make sure that this team doesn't get too impressed by itself and start buying into what everyone else is selling.

"Do you know who our head coach is?" Hinton asked, laughing at the thought of players becoming overly-inflated.

"To pat yourself on the back and say that last year matters? Everybody is going to start off the season 0-0. Every game starts off 0-0. What you do from that point on is what makes the difference. We weren't world beaters at times last year and we had to scramble and work and claw and scratch to win some games, but we have to learn from those moments.

"That part of it I hope hangs in there, why we were able to be successful last year. The rest of it doesn't matter one iota, because it's over. You can't go back and replay it. Nothing will ever be the same. Like in my room, Zach Boren isn't sitting beside you any more. I love Zach Boren, he's my dude, but move on. It's time to move on to the next chapter in your life and the next chapter of Ohio State football."

The echoes of the lessons learned last year are still floating around, but will they be able to drown out all of the new noise coming from every media corner in the country?

A player's simple trip to the grocery store for Frosted Flakes and hair gel will also feature a gander or two at a stack of magazines asking if Ohio State is the team that can finally unseat the SEC.

Reporters and fellow students will ask them on a weekly basis whether or not they can stop the SEC's streak. Meanwhile, they'll be trying to get ready for a trip to Berkeley or Evanston.

Many already have the Buckeyes' record at 11-0 prior to their trip to Ann Arbor. That's fine for others to project. They can do what they want. The players just can't let themselves be poisoned by such toxic talk.

Luke Fickell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

"To be honest with you, you don't look at those things," said co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

"The reality is that you don't look at that. You're always looking at the top, and right now, obviously that would be Alabama or whomever has won the national championship. So that's where you're trying to compare yourself. That's what you're trying to match yourself up against."

It doesn't matter if Ohio State is going to be favored throughout the Big Ten schedule, because that's not the standard that the Buckeyes are holding themselves to. Being expected to win is nothing new at Ohio State. Heck, it's why most of the players became Buckeyes in the first place.

But Fickell reminds us that there's no such thing as simply rolling a leaf-pocked silver helmet onto the field and securing a victory. The game must still be played, regardless of favorites or underdogs.

"You don't think about being favored in every game," he said.

"That's not something that goes through your mind. Whether it works out that way, that's the beauty of playing the games. All of the prognostications and things don't really matter."

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