In Big Ten, All Comebacks Not Created Equal

Ohio State has a handful of seniors who spurned the NFL in favor of one more year in scarlet and gray, a move similar to one made last year by a trio of players at their archrival. It did not work out so well at Michigan. Do the Buckeyes fear a similar fate?

With the Big Ten Network now widely available in Ohio, many more Buckeye fans have doubtless had the opportunity to watch the network and its many commercials for Big Ten institutions.

Ohio State has one explaining how the "O-H-I-O" cheer has crisscrossed the globe, Illinois tells viewers its students are following the lead of previous legends in various fields and Minnesota focuses on research taking place on its campus.

A spot extolling the virtues of attending the University of Michigan revolves around the theme, "The Michigan Difference," but with several Ohio State football players spurning the NFL and returning to Columbus for one more year in scarlet and gray this season, there appears to be some symmetry between the 2008 Buckeyes and the 2007 Wolverines.

In January 2007, Michigan stars Jake Long, Chad Henne and Mike Hart all made ballyhooed returns to Ann Arbor, a development that made for good press clippings initially but which blew up in the faces of the trio when the Wolverines dropped consecutive games to open the regular season and lost games 11 and 12 as well.

As now-graduated Ohio State captain Kirk Barton put it in the aftermath of Ohio State's 14-3 win at Michigan that concluded the regular season, "That got a lot of coverage all year because the three big guys all turned down the NFL so they could come back and beat us and ride off into the sunset, but I guess a funny thing happened on the way to the sunset," Barton said.

Naturally, there is a chance that could happen to these Buckeyes, is there not?

While good feelings surround current Buckeye seniors such as James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Freeman and Alex Boone for their choices, is there reason to fear a similar disappointment?

"Hell no," Boone said without a second thought just prior to the start of the season. "I don't fear anything. I think we're going to do great. I think this team is ready. Obviously, there's only one more practice before the game and I think everything is kind of down sound. They run some things that are a little different, but like I said, you can't fear anything. Just go out and have fun."

That same day in the preseason, Jenkins' answer lacked the bravado but clearly drew a distinction between the 2007 Wolverines and 2008 Buckeyes.

"I don't think we really think about that too much because we know what we want to get accomplished, and our whole focus is not on a national championship," Jenkins said. "Last year those guys came out and said that they were coming back to beat Ohio State and to win a national championship, whereas we are just trying to enjoy our time here. We love Ohio State. We love playing for this university, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time and just try to play our best every chance we get."

Ohio State wasted little time in putting to rest any potential for a close resemblance to the season Michigan had last year. While the Wolverines suffered perhaps the most embarrassing defeat in school history when Appalachian State rose up from Division I-AA to beat them 34-32 in the 2007 season opener, Ohio State easily dispatched another team from the lower subdivision, Youngstown State, 43-0 Aug. 30.

As he explained Sept. 2, that day made clear to Freeman that he had made the right choice.

"I came back because of the feeling I had running on the field Saturday," Freeman said. "Those butterflies. When I hear Evan Blankenship sing, ‘Carmen Ohio'. It just makes you really inside feel happy to be back here. The feeling you get when you hear 105,000 fans yelling for you when you make a big play. You can't get that in the NFL, and I'm glad I'm back here."

He gave the impression that Michigan's famous seniors might have miscalculated by setting the bar so high before getting their final go-round under way.

"You hear a lot about them coming back for three reasons: to beat Ohio State, to win the national championship and to win a bowl game, and I don't think that was our mindset," Freeman said. "That's not my mindset. To win the national championship is going to be tough. To win a bowl game is going to be tough. To beat Michigan is going to be tough."

"It started with the seniors just having fun and enjoying our times," Jenkins said. "I think we all genuinely have a love for this university and our time here and everyone is just trying to savor it."

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