Focused Buckeyes Coping With No. 1 Ranking

Being the best at anything can be a difficult thing, and that's the situation in which Ohio State finds itself now that the Buckeyes are ranked No. 1. From dealing with overconfidence to the bull's-eye now on their backs, find out how the Buckeyes are treating their recent ascension in the polls.

In case you hadn't noticed, the Ohio State football team is 7-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. In that case, you might spend a lot of time with the Buckeyes.

Well, that might not quite be fair. The Buckeyes do know those facts, but to a man the reaction Tuesday was that they mean very little at this point in time. The message seemed to be, come back in five weeks, and if the record still has a zero in the loss column and the ranking still says No. 1, then it might be time to celebrate.

And for head coach Jim Tressel, that date can be extended another two months into the middle of January, the time of the BCS title game and a time this past year when things were not right in Buckeye Land.

"I don't know if there's any euphoria," Tressel said when asked about the team's reaction to the No. 1 ranking. "I hope not."

In the meantime, the Buckeyes have five games left to go, all of which are against Big Ten opponents who are 5-2 and play the type of physical, power football for which the league is often known. That starts with Michigan State Saturday in Ohio Stadium, a team the Buckeyes cannot afford to overlook if they want to accomplish their goals.

"It's another big game," offensive tackle Ben Person said. "You have to go 1-0 every week. That's kind of our goal. We take it one week at a time. You have to go 1-0 this week or you can't win the Big Ten."

One thing Ohio State will not be doing, the players say, is reveling in their success. The Buckeyes are newly crowned as the nation's No. 1 team, but in the eyes of many they are there not so much for what they have done – beating seven teams with a combined record of 23-25 – but for the failings of others. The top 10 teams in the preseason Associated Press top 10 have all suffered losses already this season, capped by No. 1 LSU and No. 2 California falling a week ago.

So it seems that being No. 1 – or anything from Nos. 1 through 10 – this season has been accompanied by a bit of a curse. Or, perhaps, the proverbial bull's-eye on the back theory just continues to come true, giving OSU something more to play for in the coming weeks.

"We're the No. 1 team in the country and everybody wants to knock that team off," quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "It's definitely a little motivation for us to go out there and play hard each and every week."

The Buckeyes are used to being No. 1, a spot they held for the length of the 2006 season, even though the cast largely has changed. For different players, then, that No. 1 ranking has meant different things. For defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, it means the Buckeyes have to bear down and attack the next five games, which will come against the Spartans, at Penn State, against Wisconsin and Illinois and then at Michigan.

"We have to look at it as we can't let any opportunity go to waste," Larimore said. "If we get to the national championship we can't let that squander. We can't let that squander this week. We have a good team coming up, and we can't let this opportunity pass us by."

For Boeckman, it means staying focused, something he postulates that some of the fallen giants that came before Ohio State might not have done.

"You have to stay focused," the junior quarterback said. "That's probably one of the big things; some of the teams are not focused out there on the opposition. They think, ‘Oh, we're 40-point favorites,' or whatever it is. ‘Maybe we can just go out there and just run through the motions,' and maybe that's what they did.'"

In fact, focus appears to be the key word. Tressel said Tuesday that he has found in his coaching career that adversity has been easier to deal for his players than success, and the coach expressed he is never comfortable when his teams achieve high praise during the course of a season because of the lack of focus it can bring forth.

"I don't know that it's human instinct to be focused all the times you should," Tressel said. "I know I've been unfocused at home sometimes and my wife says something and I didn't hear it, and that was probably not the best focus. So that's human. And we've got to make sure that we work as hard as we can to be focused on whatever the moment happens to need."

The seventh-year coach would then be happy to hear his players not only echoing his thoughts that the No. 1 ranking means very little at this point, but that they have realized and appreciated the importance placed on each game.

"From Coach Tress on down," Person said, "it's definitely tunnel vision."

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