Still Feeling The Florida Impact

Out of the darkest nights come some of the brightest days. Perhaps when all is said and done this season, the Buckeyes will look to that statement as they remember their defeat in last season's national championship game. As it turns out, that loss might be giving Ohio State the fuel it needs to get back to the title game.

Most Ohio State fans hate to see the numbers 41 and 14 placed next to each other. The mere mention of the Florida Gators turns their stomachs. Asking a Buckeye, or a Buckeye fan, to relive Jan. 8 of 2007 is akin to asking them to willfully step into a bear trap.

In other words, OSU's 41-14 defeat at the hands of the Gators in last season's BCS National Championship Game still resonates with the Buckeye Nation. But while fans want to hear little – if anything – about the game dubbed the "Debacle in the Desert," it might be another story for these Buckeyes.

Two-thirds of the way toward a repeat performance in the national championship, the Buckeyes have a lot of reasons to feel motivated in what was widely speculated to be a rebuilding year – a perceived lack of tough opponents and a sense of "falling up" the national rankings are just two of them.

But lurking there below the surface like a splinter is the memory of the only time the Buckeyes have lost in their last 27 games.

"Every time I walk on the field I think about how we kind of got smacked in the mouth in January," redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore said.

Early on, reminders were everywhere. As the Buckeyes went through spring football and then fall camp, questions about the Florida loss permeated every press conference. As the team moved into new quarters at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the security code to access the innermost sanctum contained – among other numbers – the digits 41, 14, and 01. While the score is obvious, the 01 was there to symbolize the fact that the team was 0-1 in the 2007 calendar year.

Those numbers have since been changed, head coach Jim Tressel said, but the message is still there. Aside from things like that, the coaching staff has not harped on that loss to get this year's team ready to go.

"I wish life were different, but things that maybe I haven't done as well have helped me the next time I've tried to do them," Tressel said. "(It's been) probably more subtle than direct. We don't start every team meeting with, ‘now, don't forget,' because you don't have to."

Phrases such as "punched in the mouth" are frequently uttered when it comes to that game.

At the very least, the loss has taught the Buckeyes a lesson about overlooking their opponents regardless of what their records might indicate.

"We maybe came in there so, we thought we were the best team in the country, we came in No. 1, we felt we were going to finish No. 1," junior quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "I think Florida was just more prepared than us. I guess maybe getting to the national championship game I guess we were getting overconfident and lost our focus a little bit."

The players are not alone in that assessment. The coaching staff has taken notes on what happened leading up to the game in an effort to ensure that it never happens again.

"I think that last year's Florida game was a great example of we lost our focus," quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said. "If we knew that as coaches, we certainly would've tried to avoid that, there's no question about that."

But partially as the result of that loss, the Buckeyes have been afforded another luxury aside from an improved sense of focus. One season ago, OSU began the season as the nation's top-ranked team and came up short in its attempt to be the first team in school history to go wire-to-wire as such.

This season's team has been able to fly under the radar a bit more.

But now that they are again the nation's top team, Larimore said he does not want to experience the awful feeling he had one season ago standing on the sidelines as a freshman watching his teammates get defeated on the biggest stage of the season.

"You can't forget it," he said. "It's one of those things that you'll have that loss in the back of your mind for the rest of your life. Shoot, I didn't even play in the game. Just in the locker room, just seeing the seniors and seeing how they took the loss, it's something that you just never want to feel in your life.

"You just never want to have that big opportunity and let it go to waste. That motivates me every day knowing I can't let that happen."

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