That was precisely the case, though, Saturday as Tressel led ninth-ranked Ohio State into its season opener against Cincinnati and new head coach Mark Dantonio. Of course, Dantonio had worked for Tressel at both Youngstown State and OSU, helping the Buckeyes to 25 wins and the 2002 national championship.
Accordingly, most felt the game would be a defensive-minded struggle, high on hitting and low on scoring.
That is precisely what happened as OSU cruised to a 27-6 win over the visiting Bearcats before 104,604 at Ohio Stadium.
"I think I'm excited the game is over," Tressel admitted. "It's like playing against family, you know. We knew they would be well schooled and thank goodness our players were prepared to get after them.
"Obviously, we are happy we won. I'm just as happy it's over."
The Buckeyes outgained UC 462-238 and won easily despite turning the ball over three times. OSU allowed Cincinnati to convert just 5 of their 18 third-down predicaments.
"I thought our defense did a good job," Tressel said. "I thought (UC offensive coordinator) Donnie Treadwell had a good plan. I thought he did some good things. I thought our guys adjusted to it well and played hard and broke up some balls. I think we were probably pretty good on third-down conversions.
"They answered every challenge. We left them down in bad territory twice and only gave up a field goal, I think, with two sudden changes."
For OSU, sophomore quarterback Justin Zwick made his first career start. He completed 14 of 26 passes for 213 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Sophomore Troy Smith came off the bench to hit on 2 of 3 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought that the quarterbacks did some good things," Tressel said. "They got real life opportunities, which there's no substitute for. They made some good plays. They made some errors, especially from a turnover standpoint, which we won't be able to survive in the future."
Senior tailback Lydell Ross had 141 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
"I think I started out a little slow," Ross said. "In the second half, I think we came out and found our niche. We started doing what we're good at."
Tony Pittman, in his debut as a freshman, added 66 yards on seven carries.
Flanker Santonio Holmes led the Buckeyes with four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Ryan Hamby had four grabs for 75 yards and a score. Bam Childress added four catches for 67 yards.
Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli torched Ohio State for 324 yards and a touchdown in the teams' all-too-close meeting two years ago in Cincinnati, a game OSU won 23-19. The story was much different this time around as Guidugli hit on 17 of 36 passes for 162 yards.
"I am very proud of our players," Dantonio said. "They came in and continued to play. They didn't back down. I was very happy with the way we were in there for the whole game. I thought our guys fought hard."
The teams battled through a scoreless first quarter, although a Zwick turnover late in the period set up UC's first points. One play after an offensive holding penalty on Roy Hall negated a 47-yard touchdown pass from Zwick to Childress, Zwick dropped to pass on third-and-32 at the OSU 39. But UC linebacker Jamar Enzor beat center Nick Mangold and hit Zwick as he was throwing. Zwick fumbled and Enzor recovered at the OSU 32 with 1:26 left in the half.
After a UC holding penalty, Guidugli found Derick Ross for a 28-yard gain down to the OSU 14. But, after Guidugli's third-down pass to Richard Hall was knocked incomplete by Ashton Youboty. Kevin Lovell came on and hit a 27-yard field goal to put UC up 3-0 with 14:54 left in the first half.
Maurice Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to the OSU 46. But the Buckeyes lost the ball on downs when Ross was stopped easily for a 1-yard loss by UC's Trent Cole on a slow developing running play on fourth-and-1 at the UC 45.
After forcing a UC punt, a long Ross run led to OSU's first points of the season. On first down from the 20, Ross exploded through a big hole provided by right tackle Tim Schafer, broke a tackle by UC's Tedrick Harwell and went down the right sideline for a 68-yard gain. UC's Daven Holly recovered to shove Ross out of bounds at the UC 12-yard line.
"I was disappointed about that fourth-down play, but I was able to come back and bust a big play," Ross said.
OSU was unable to find the end zone, though, as Maurice Hall got 2 yards on first down before Zwick threw a pair of incompletions. Mike Nugent's 27-yard field goal tied the game at 3-3 with 10:15 left in the first half.
Later in the half, the Buckeyes would threaten as a 29-yard pass from Zwick to Hamby helped give OSU a first down at the UC 35. But after three straight incompletions, Nugent misfired wide right on a 53-yard field goal.
"I think I lifted my head up as I hit it," Nugent said. "It was headed dead center. It felt so good, but I think I opened up."
The Buckeyes finally gained their first lead with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring march just before the half. Zwick was 4 of 5 on this possession, hitting Hamby for a 14-yard gain, Childress for 28 more and Hamby once again for 14 more. Facing third-and-8 at the UC 17, Zwick stood in under heavy blitz pressure and found a wide open Hamby down the middle of the field for the 17-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead with 1:11 left in the half.
"We run that play in practice all the time with the five wide receivers and I never get the pass," Hamby said. "Both the ‘backers blitzed and he saw me."
Zwick threw a pair of interceptions early in the third quarter. On the first one, he was hit and the ball flutterd by a wide open Hamby deep in UC territory and JaJuan Hall intercepted at the UC 5. On the next possession, a Zwick pass went off Holmes' hands and was intercepted by Doug Monaghan at the OSU 35-yard line.
Guidugli went to the air and found Hannibal Thomas for a 23-yard gain down to the OSU 12. But the defense stiffened: Guidugli's third-down pass in the end zone to George Murray was knocked away by OSU's Tyler Everett. Lovell's 25-yard field goal cut the lead to 10-6 with 6:16 left in the third.
"That is huge for us," said defensive end Simon Fraser. "We get put in a situation like that with an interception, but we still held them to no touchdowns in the red zone. That's what we work on and I think we did a good job."
Hall once again got OSU headed in the right direction with a 41-yard kick return to the OSU 43. From there, OSU moved 57 yards in nine plays. Once again, Childress came up big. He caught a Zwick pass over the middle, eluded a UC defender and picked up 18 yards. Ross then ripped off an 18-yard gain, a play that put him over 100 yards for the day.
Perhaps the key play in the game came on third-and-8 at the UC 16. OSU lined up with five wide receivers and an empty backfield. Zwick could not find a receiver and took off. He gained just 6 yards, but UC's Enzor was flagged for a 5-yard face mask. The extra yardage gave the Buckeyes a first down. Then, UC's Holly was flagged for pass interference against OSU's Roy Hall in the end zone.
"We had a couple penalties and it hurt us," Dantonio said.
On second-and-goal from the 1, Ross bounced off Enzor and plowed into the end zone behind lineman Tim Schafer for the touchdown and a 17-6 lead with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Ross went to work on the Bearcats and the clock. He helped OSU convert three first downs on a late 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive that was capped by Smith's perfect 23-yard fade pass to Holmes for the touchdown and a 24-6 lead with 5:54 left.
"That pass was exactly where it was supposed to be," Holmes said. "It's a quick play. He takes a three-step drop and puts the ball over the top. He gave me an opportunity to make a play."
Nugent's 23-yard field goal, set up by a 38-yard run by Pittman, capped the scoring with 1:51 left.
* Ohio State now leads the all-time series with Cincinnati 12-2. The series began in 1893 with UC's only wins coming in 1896 and 1897, both in Cincinnati. The series was halted after a 67-6 win by OSU in 1931 at Ohio Stadium.
It resumed in 1999 as part of a three-for-one agreement between the schools (three games in Columbus, one in Cincinnati). The final game in that deal is set for Sept. 16, 2006.
* OSU is now 99-12-4 all-time in season opening games. The Buckeyes have not lost a season opening game since 1999, when they fell to Miami (Fla.) 23-12 in the Kickoff Classic.
* The Buckeyes have a string of 26 straight wins in home openers, dating to a 19-0 loss to Penn State in 1978.
* OSU is now 276-65-9 all-time in games as a top-10 ranked team since the inception of The Associated Press poll in 1936. That mark includes a record of 26-3-1 in season openers as a top-10 team. The losses were in 1978 to Penn State, 1986 to Alabama (16-10 at the Kickoff Classic) and 1999 to Miami. The tie was against TCU (7-7) in 1961.
* The Buckeyes have now won 17 straight home games, dating to a 34-22 loss to Illinois in the final home game in 2001. OSU is 21-2 at home in three-plus seasons under Tressel.
* OSU also has a streak of 36 straight home wins against nonconference opponents, dating to a 35-26 loss to USC in 1990. Including bowl games, Ohio State has now won 11 straight games against nonconference opponents, dating to a loss to South Carolina in the 2002 Outback Bowl.
* Freshmen spotted in today's game included Sirjo Welch, Tony Pittman, Marcus Freeman, Curtis Terry, Rory Nicol, Vernon Gholston and Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn caught a pair of passes in his debut, working almost exclusively at wide receiver.
"That was great," Ginn said. "I had a ball and I'll be happy to do it again next week."
Redshirt freshmen checking in for the first time included Kirk Barton and Anthony Gonzalez.
* First-time starters today included Zwick, Schafer, Roy Hall, Doug Datish, Jay Richardson, Mike D'Andrea and Anthony Schlegel.
* Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter led OSU with nine tackles.
* OSU hosts Marshall next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ABC).