A Chance To Live The Dream

Regardless of what team they might line up against, the Buckeyes appear to be headed back to the national championship game. With their ultimate opponent still somewhat of a mystery until the official unveiling of the BCS standings Sunday evening, Ohio State has achieved its primary goal already without learning its opponent.

It was a party-like atmosphere at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Saturday night. Perched at No. 3 in the polls, Ohio State needed an upset to climb back into the national championship game, and as a result most of the players filed in to watch both the Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Oklahoma-Missouri games.

While both the Mountaineers and the Tigers went down, the Buckeyes stopped watching before both games were finished. In fact, the WHAC became a ghost town very quickly, according to senior captain Dionte Johnson.

"The parking lot was clear within 30 seconds (of the Pitt game)," he said with a laugh. "Everybody was out of here."

The message was clear: The Buckeyes were returning to the site of last season's lone failure, and the opportunity was now on the table to avenge the team's loss to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game. The message was also that it did not matter to them which team they faced, only that they had gotten back to the game themselves.

One week prior, senior captain Kirk Barton told reporters that it was almost as if no one wanted to be the top team.

"If no one else wants to take it, we'll take it," he said.

It appears the Buckeyes will be facing Louisiana State, although the full BCS rankings will not be released until 8 p.m. Sunday night. In all other polls, the Buckeyes and the Tigers are ranked one-two, with LSU receiving a smattering of first-place votes.

For OSU, then, it means there is finally some certainty to a period that has seen them climb from the No. 5 spot in the nation in the last two weeks despite the notable handicap of not having played a game.

"It's a challenge, there's no question about that, but it's a challenge that our guys really want," head coach Jim Tressel said. "We want to be in a challenging position, no matter where it is or who it is."

Last season, the team's focus was on going wire-to-wire as the nation's top team. This year, Tressel said, the goal was to win the Big Ten and simply put themselves in a position to return to the title game.

"I think our guys are just excited to be in the game," Tressel said. "They weren't too worried about who they were going to play. It wasn't about who they were going to have a chance to play, it was about the fact that they were going to have a chance to play."

In that sense, mission accomplished. But in the greater scheme of things, now the task becomes making sure this season's trip to the title game goes better than the one undertaken by the Buckeyes a season ago.

They will likely be playing an LSU team that has suffered two losses but a team that, as head coach Les Miles has pointed out, has not been defeated in regulation. Tressel said he voted the Tigers No. 2 on his ballot, citing their tough schedule as well as their SEC championship as reasons why they were deserving of playing in the title game.

It is a matchup that will likely see the Buckeyes enter as both the nation's top team and an underdog, but for one night at the WHAC facts like that did not matter. OSU had ridden an 11-1 season and a loss in week 11 to a berth in the national championship game.

"We've been trying to prepare all year for this, and now that we've got it we're not going to shy away from it," junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're right on track with what we planned."

One thing they have not planned much for, however, is playing LSU. Heading into the weekend, the OSU coaching staff had been gathering film on several schools based on which teams they could theoretically play in the title game.

The Tigers were not among those schools.

"They weren't the obvious (pick)," Tressel said. "To me, going into this weekend the obvious was West Virginia or USC, thinking that West Virginia was probably going to win and USC we were going to play in the Rose Bowl if everybody won."

Team video coordinator Mark Quisenberry will be calling Sunday night to get tape of LSU, Tressel said.

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