The annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, held this past week in Chicago, marked the first chance for many national writers to quiz the Buckeyes on the last game of the 2006 season. While the question was raised quickly and often, head coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes seem to have the same thoughts about their 41-14 loss to Florida as they expressed during spring football.
Namely, they seem almost as baffled as the rest of us at how their season ended.
"I'm sure in the back of our minds we're antsy to get going because the last time we looked at the scoreboard at the end of the game we didn't win," Tressel said. "Not only did we not win, we didn't do as well as we were capable of doing, which hurts even more."
That could be the understatement of the season. Entering the game as one of the nation's most prolific offenses, the Buckeyes were stymied by a Florida team that appeared to be quicker, faster and hungrier than OSU.
The offseason has been one full of at least a bit of soul-searching for the Buckeyes. Junior defensive end Vernon Gholston pointed to an annual meeting Tressel has with his juniors and seniors during the winter months as a time when they attempted to confront what had happened in the game head-on.
"The Florida game being a focal point of the offseason as far as film study-wise and what went wrong with that game, we definitely just try to learn and grow from that game and basically not make the same mistakes that we made last year with that game," he said.
Gholston said the team has watched the game and added that he has watched it a few times on his own. Watching it is not necessary to know what went wrong, he said, giving the first indication that the Buckeyes have realized they simply were not prepared mentally for the game.
"A general sense from playing the game is we knew what went wrong and we knew our mindset wasn't completely there, but that's just something you've got to work on for next year and know that every game, you've got to be up for," he said.
While the experience of losing the game was difficult enough, junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said all he needed to do was see the look in his father's eyes after the game to realize how badly it had gone. The two rarely speak of the game now, he said.
"He was just real disappointed because he's not only a father, he's a Buckeye fan," he said. "Any true Buckeye fan would hurt after that game."
Senior offensive lineman Kirk Barton said the hardest part for him was going to class in the immediate aftermath of the game and seeing how dejected the student population was as a result of the game.
"I'm in class the next day surrounded by people," he said. "They were wearing their Ohio State jerseys the day before and now they're in the closet and everybody's depressed. College kids can't escape it when you fail."
Getting away from the game for players has been anything but easy. Barton said during spring football that the outcome was in "every frickin' magazine" he had read.
He also described it as the worst game he had been part of in four years at OSU.
"That's like Brooke Burke wanting to go on a date with you and then you fall on your face and break your arm or something," he said. "You don't get it again. It's over. You look like an idiot."
Still, Tressel admitted that – perhaps by design – he has no problems sleeping at night. That comes in contrast to one memory he has of his father's coaching tenure at Baldwin-Wallace.
Tressel said that after a loss to Wittenberg one season, he saw his father, Lee, sitting at the dining room table going over the play-by-play from the game. Jim went to bed, arose at 5 a.m. to deliver newspapers and spied his father still sitting there, going over the play-by-play.
Despite the loss, he said he has never had a night like that – although he admitted to having been through his fair share of difficult losses.
"One thing, knock on wood, I've never had trouble doing is sleeping, whether it's before the game or after the game or after an exciting win or after a disappointing loss," he said. "Part of which I think is the pace we keep. We work so hard that when you shut down, it's over."