Big Ten Says OSU No Underdog

As it turns out, rumors of Ohio State's demise may be quite exaggerated, especially as far as the other members of the Big Ten are concerned. questioned players from across the league at the Big Ten Media Days to get their thoughts on the OSU mystique, and most said it hasn't gone anywhere.

It makes for an easy narrative – after six years of watching Ohio State dominate the Big Ten, the league's other members are excited to see the offseason turmoil that hit the Buckeyes' program simply because it means the path to a conference title is that much simpler.

If only it were that simple.

A sample of quotes from Friday's print session of the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago showed that Buckeye opponents are counting Ohio State neither down nor out. In fact, the mystique surrounding the Ohio State program is alive and well.

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins – whose team tied Ohio State and Wisconsin for the league title last year before OSU vacated its share as part of the NCAA problems to hit the program – said he wouldn't be surprised to see the Buckeyes continue their streak of winning six straight Big Ten titles.

"In my opinion, they're still Ohio State," Cousins said. "Until someone knocks them off, they have to be the favorite. They have to be the team that is going to be there at the end. When you win six straight, you have to understand that's probably the team to beat."

While no one ceded the league championship to the Buckeyes yet again in 2011, the consensus could be summed up in one thought.

"Ohio State is Ohio State," Penn State fullback Joe Suhey said. "They have great players, a great coach and a lot of guys coming back. They're going to be ready to go. I promise you, no one around the conference, no one at Penn State is going to take Ohio State lighter than we ever have."

Of course, some things are different, starting at the top, where head coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign for covering up NCAA violations. That fact alone should give Big Ten foes a lifeline, as Tressel's teams – before the vacated wins – won seven league titles in his 10 years, posted a 66-14 record and had a winning record against every league squad faced.

Then there's the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who lost only three Big Ten games in three seasons as a starter. Also gone are first-round draft pick Cameron Heyward, a defensive lineman who went to the Pittsbugh Steelers, and 2010 All-Big Ten choices Dane Sanzenbacher, Justin Boren, Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, Chimdi Chekwa, Jermale Hines and Devin Barclay.

That's a lot of talent to lose in one offseason, but Big Ten observers don't expect much to change this time around as Luke Fickell takes the reins.

"On the field, we still know they're going to be Ohio State," Minnesota running back Duane Bennett said. "They're going to have great athletes. They're going to have a great game plan. They're going to have great coaches helping them out. They're still going to come out and compete, they're still going to come out and put their best foot forward."

Not even Michigan, the Buckeyes' biggest rival and a team Tressel beat nine times in 10 tries, appears to be sleeping on Ohio State.

When new U-M head coach Brady Hoke was asked if he sees Ohio State as a wounded program at the moment, he had a ready answer.

"No, I really don't," he said. "That's a tremendous program with tremendous tradition, just like we have."

Quarterback Denard Robinson had a similar answer.

"Oh no," he said. "They're going to compete. They're still a ranked team. They're still going to be that team that everybody wants to beat. That's how it is. Nothing has changed."

The one way the Buckeyes might still be able to embrace an underdog role is through the media. For the first time in years, there was no official preseason voting to anoint a team as the predicted league champion, but The Plain Dealer in Cleveland did contact 24 beat writers from around the league for a preseason poll.

Only one respondent picked the Buckeyes to win the new Leaders Division of the Big Ten, while Wisconsin – which must travel to Columbus for an October night game – got 22 first-place votes in a landslide triumph. In contrast, the Buckeyes were chosen as preseason favorites the past three seasons and five times overall in Tressel's tenure.

There have also been plenty of slings and arrows tossed in the media, enough to sting some members of the program.

"I get the sense that people think we're just going to roll over," OSU center Michael Brewster said Thursday. "Maybe that's the story they want to write, maybe that's how they want it to appear. That's not how we feel. Our expectations are the same."

So too, it appears are those of Ohio State's conference foes. That might put a dent in thoughts that the Buckeyes have been counted out around the league, but Brewster said opponents' kind words won't dampen his resolve.

"I feel like we earned that respect, and it's nice when people recognize that and say nice things, but I feel like we have something to prove this year," Brewster said. "We feel we haven't accomplished anything after everything that's gone on."

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