OSU (9-2) got into the Bowl Championship Series for the fourth time in eight years – and third year in four at the Fiesta – by virtue of ending the regular season as the No. 4-ranked team in the final BCS standings. The Buckeyes entered this weekend sixth in the standings, but moved up after previous No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Virginia Tech each lost conference championship games on Saturday.
When the Buckeyes moved into that fourth spot, they became an automatic BCS selection.
The BCS pairings fell exactly how most analysts felt they would. USC and Texas will meet in the Rose Bowl for the national championship game. The Fiesta Bowl then slotted Notre Dame (9-2), which got an automatic berth by finishing 12th or better in the standings. (ND ended up sixth, while fifth-place Oregon was left out of the BCS.)
The Orange Bowl then took Penn State to meet ACC champion Florida State. The Fiesta tabbed OSU to meet Notre Dame, and the Sugar Bowl was left with a match-up of champions from the SEC (Georgia) and Big East (West Virginia).
OSU coach Jim Tressel, 3-1 in bowl games with the Buckeyes, discussed the match-up with the Fighting Irish.
"We are awfully proud of this group of seniors," Tressel said. "They have earned another BCS bowl berth, which is a tremendous accomplishment. They have the chance to go back to another Fiesta Bowl, where the people there are so extraordinary. And to get an opponent like Notre Dame, we couldn't be happier with the situation we're in.
"This is one of the reasons players come to play at Ohio State, to get opportunities like this. We thought we would have a great opportunity with our schedule and the great job our guys did on the field."
Tressel believes OSU was positioned well for an at-large bid, even if the automatic bid had not come through.
"We were very confident when you look at everything Ohio State brings to the table," he said. "From a fan standpoint, we have a great tradition with the way they travel and show up at the bowl games. I know a lot of people were very interested in having us. I was confident as I went to bed last night that it would be the Fiesta Bowl, but you never know for sure."
As a preseason top-10 team, Ohio State set its eyes on playing for the national title in the Rose Bowl. But when that dream went by the wayside after a 3-2 start, the Buckeyes refocused. They won six straight – including a rare season-ending win at Michigan – to snag a piece of the Big Ten title.
"Our goal always is to have a chance to play in the national championship game," Tressel said. "The picture of that stadium is always in the front of the (team meeting room). We put the rest of the BCS games at the back of the room. If it can't be the game at the front of the room, this is as good as it gets.
"As you look at the conference tie-ins with certain bowls, it looked like the Fiesta was going to lose some of their tie-ins and it would be a possibility. As it evolved this last week or so, it looked like it could be an Ohio State-Notre Dame match-up, and that is certainly exciting."
Tressel, who turns 53 on Monday, said it has been hard not to notice the strides made by ND under first-year head coach Charlie Weis.
"Charlie and his entire staff have done a great job," Tressel said. "You can tell by the players they have on the field, they have great motors and they really get after it. I have not watched them that much. I have not had to study them that much yet.
"But when you go to a place, you have to be fortunate if you inherit a group that is very interested in succeeding. When they have not had as much success as they would have hoped, there is a natural plus that you can build upon. Then, of course, you have to have good staff and good players and get a few bounces.
"If you just look at their numbers, they have scored a lot of points and they have been explosive. He's obviously managed the transition. Sometimes, you go in and you have to suffer a little bit before people understand your mission."
OSU attempted to recruit ND junior quarterback Brady Quinn out of high school at nearby Dublin Coffman. But Quinn signed with ND instead. He has earned praise this season by throwing for 3,633 yards and 32 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Quinn maintains he will return for his senior year and would likely own all of ND's career passing records if he does.
"Brady was a great high school quarterback," Tressel said. "We were very much interested in him coming here. He has done a great job and taken that opportunity at Notre Dame. He has had to handle some ups and downs, but he has done an excellent job. He is a polished guy and they have great tools around him.
"He is one of those guys who is very motivated. He studies the game hard. With Charlie's background, he brought a great blueprint and he has moved toward getting better than he already was. He is very passionate. He is becoming everything all of us thought he would be."
Tressel revealed that tight end Ryan Hamby is back working out and should be ready for the bowl game. However, fullback Brandon Schnittker and linebacker Bobby Carpenter could be gameweek decisions due to injuries.
This will be the final Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium, a place that has great memories for OSU.
"What better opportunity than Ohio State and Notre Dame to mark the last Fiesta Bowl at that stadium?" Tressel said.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith addressed the media briefly on the bowl selection process.
"I want to thank the Fiesta Bowl board of directors for extending an invitation to The Ohio State University," Smith said. "We are excited to represent the Big Ten and to go to Tempe and play against a good Notre Dame football team.
"I want to thank our players and staff for a job well done. I want to congratulate our fans. They have done a marvelous job historically in supporting us at bowl sites. We ended up getting an automatic bid, but I am certain that is on the minds of the Fiesta Bowl board."
As a Notre Dame alum, some might think Smith's allegiances are torn.
"I just want to beat them," Smith said. "Like these players, with a game like this and you're playing a good team on a platform like that, you just like to win."
As the former AD at Arizona State, Smith said he did use his contacts in Tempe to try and market the Buckeyes.
"I am a life member of the Fiesta Bowl board," Smith said. "Fortunately for me and unfortunately for them, I had all of their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. We worked hard in the last week. I felt pretty good going into yesterday. Our players had put us in that position. It was an easy sell.
"You play the sport and play the game to play against these kind of teams. Our young men have earned the opportunity to play against the best. You want to take your talents and skills and play against the best."
There were reports that Oregon officials traveled to Tempe to plead their case. But Smith said OSU made no such trip.
"We talked about that with our commissioner, Jim Delany, and he felt that was not necessary," Smith said.
OSU associate athletic director Richelle Simonson said the school has received 16,000 tickets – the same total it received for the national championship game in 2002 and the Kansas State match-up in 2003.
Those in what she termed the "development group" (suite holders, club seat purchasers, Buckeye Club and President's Club members) will have the first crack at tickets. Allotments will also be set aside for Varsity "O" club members, longtime season ticket holders and students and faculty and staff members.
Students and faculty and staff members need to participate in a lottery for available tickets. Students must register on Monday, while faculty and staff enter their lottery on Tuesday. That registration occurs at the Schottenstein Center box office. Each group will receive claim vouchers to obtain tickets upon arrival in Arizona.
"This is the same thing we did in the national championship year," Simonson said.
With a rare OSU-Notre Dame match-up, Simonson expects heavy demand for the $90 face value tickets and no public sale of tickets.
"We anticipate this ticket will be as difficult a ticket to get as the national championship year," she said. "But we know our fans tend to be resourceful."
OSU's Arizona headquarters will again be the Scottsdale Princess resort. The Buckeyes will be the visiting team and will wear their white uniforms.
OSU will also assist the Fiesta Bowl in marketing tickets for a pair of special events – the Dec. 31 Bowl Block Party and the Jan. 2 pregame Football's Biggest Party outside the stadium. Check the OSU web site for details on those events.
Weis joined Tressel on an evening Fiesta Bowl teleconference.
Weis inherited a team that was just 6-6 last year after a loss in the Insight Bowl.
"It is a great tribute to our coaching staff and our players that we were able to turn it around that fast," he said. "Coming from the Patriots, where we put a lot of pressure on the guys to learn schemes of the offense and defense, to walk into Notre Dame was a good fit. We had a bunch of smart guys who were able to pick things up early on.
"The fact that we were picked as one of the top eight teams is very rewarding. They have come a long way since they walked off that field last year and ended up 6-6."
Weis shared his first comments on Ohio State as well.
"We know they have a physical defense and an explosive offense," Weis said. "Their passing game got better and better as the year went on. Their quarterback play continued to improve as the season went on. We know that returner (Ted Ginn Jr.) can score every time he touches the ball. They are well coached. We have great respect for Ohio State.
"I have been fortunate to be able to watch them several times. I have seen them on TV, but I haven't watched any videotape yet. Our players know they have a formidable opponent ahead of them. They know it is going to be a tough task. I think they are looking forward to playing somebody the caliber of Ohio State."
Charting Notre Dame
This will be just the fifth time these two tradition-rich teams have ever met. It will be OSU's fifth trip to the Fiesta Bowl and third in four years.
Here are some quick facts on Notre Dame and OSU's bowl history:
Charting Notre Dame
* 2005 Record: 9-2 overall.
* Coach: Charlie Weis (first year at ND, 9-2).
* Notable Wins: at Pittsburgh, 42-21; at Michigan, 17-10; at Purdue, 49-28; Tennessee, 41-21.
* Notable Losses: Michigan State, 44-41 (OT); USC, 34-31.
* Offensive Threats: QB Brady Quinn (263 of 405 passing, 3,633 yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs), RB Darius Walker (237 carries, 1,106 yards, 6 TDs), WR Jeff Samardzija (71 catches, 1,190 yards, 15 TDs), WR Maurice Stovall (60 catches, 1,023 yards, 11 TDs).
* Defensive Threats: LB Brandon Hoyte (82 tackles, 15-1/2 TFLs, six sacks), LB Corey Mays (68 tackles, 10-1/2 TFLs, four sacks), DB Tom Zbikowski (62 tackles, five INTs).
* Team Totals (as of Dec. 3): Offense: Rushing, 154.8 yards per game (49th nationally); passing, 334.3 ypg (fourth); total offense, 489.1 ypg (10th); scoring offense, 38.2 points per game (seventh). Defense: Rushing, 119.4 ypg (25th); passing, 257.6 ypg (97th); total defense, 376.9 ypg (65th); scoring defense, 23.6 ppg (46th).
* All-Time Vs. Ohio State: The all-time series is tied at 2-2. The teams met in The Game of The Century in 1935 in Columbus, where ND rallied late for an 18-13 win. The Irish won 7-2 a year later in South Bend. They did not meet for nearly six decades until 1995, when OSU prevailed 45-26 in Columbus. The Buckeyes then went to South Bend a year later and won 29-16.
* ND's Bowl History: ND is 13-13 all-time in bowl games, including 1-2 at the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish lost to Oregon State 38-21 in the Insight Bowl last year.
* OSU's Bowl History: OSU is 17-19 all-time in bowls, including 3-1 in the Fiesta Bowl. That includes the national championship game win over Miami (Fla.) 31-24 in double overtime in 2003 and a 35-28 win over Kansas State in 2004. Last year, OSU trounced Oklahoma State 33-7 in the Alamo Bowl.