Former Buckeyes Downplay SEC Importance

When Ohio State takes the field for a Sugar Bowl date with Arkansas, Kirk Barton (pictured) and Marcus Freeman might experience a few flashbacks. Now members of the coaching staff, both were starters for the team's most recent bowl losses to SEC opponents.

When top-ranked Ohio State lined up against Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship game, Kirk Barton and Marcus Freeman were both in the starting lineup for the Buckeyes.

Following that 41-14 debacle, each again found himself starting in the subsequent title game against another opponent from the Southeastern Conference: LSU. The Buckeyes lost that one, too, by a 38-24 count. Now both of them are members of the team's coaching staff, but neither has given much thought to finally earning a bowl victory against an SEC team this fall when the team faces Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

"It would be good just for the program," said Barton, a team captain his senior season who now serves as an offensive graduate assistant. "We don't really care what conference we play because the Pac 10, they're as good as any SEC conference. It's not a big thing. To me, it's just that we want to win and send our seniors out on a good note. That's the biggest thing."

Freeman – a defensive quality control assistant who will serve as Kent State's linebackers coach next season – said the focus against both LSU and Florida was on winning the national championship, not defeating the conference they represented.

"It wasn't so much the SEC, it was more about winning the national championship and I think that's what it should be about coming up on Jan. 4," he said. "It's not about beating an SEC team, it's about winning the Sugar Bowl."

The loss to the Tigers ended Barton's OSU career. Freeman contemplated leaving for the NFL but instead returned for his senior season.

Like Barton, the linebacker ended his career with a loss. His came in the same Arizona desert where the Buckeyes lost to Florida, but it was not at the hands of an SEC opponent.

The 2008 squad dropped a 24-21 decision to No. 3 Texas, a 12-1 team from the Big 12 that many felt had a right to play for the national championship but instead found itself in the Fiesta Bowl.

Barton was also a member of the 2005 team that dropped a regular season contest against the Longhorns.

"If you lose to Texas or you lose to Oregon or any of those teams, losing always sucks," he said. "It doesn't matter what conference you come from. We lost to Texas in '05 and that sucked. It wasn't like, ‘Well, it was a Big 12 team so it's not as bad.' It still isn't something that you want to remember."

Last season, the Buckeyes ended a three-year losing streak in bowl games by beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Barton said that was easily as satisfying as beating an SEC team would have been.

"It doesn't diminish that we beat Oregon last year because they're not in the SEC," he said. "They could've won the SEC last year as good as they were. That's a fact. And we beat them."

That does not mean that Barton and Freeman did not grow tired of hearing about the SEC's superiority against the Buckeyes, however.

"It's a tough feeling when people don't think you're good enough to beat a team like that," Freeman said. "I think we were all confident. Everybody knew how successful the team had been and how successful of a team we were. It hurt a little bit but we just kept moving on."

Both agreed that a bowl victory pays dividends for months after the game is complete regardless of opponent.

"If you beat a good team in the bowl game I think it's good for the offseason, it's good for recruiting and it's good to send the seniors out," Barton said. "That's the most important thing in a bowl game."

He would know.


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