Seniors Want To Buck Trend, Go Out On Top

Many have painted tonight's Fiesta Bowl as a referendum on the senior class at Ohio State, a decorated group that has fallen short at the most inopportune times. Knowing full well what a loss would mean to people's feelings about the class, the group wants to go out on the high note that eluded its predecessors.

To James Laurinaitis, they were the best of times.

The linebacker was just a freshman in 2005, and a year of spot duty all of a sudden took on new meaning when Laurinaitis was forced into the lineup early in the Michigan game because of an injury to senior Bobby Carpenter.

Playing alongside seniors A.J. Hawk and Anthony Schlegel, Laurinaitis helped the Buckeyes defeat the Wolverines and then Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to finish fourth in the national rankings.

After the Buckeyes put the finishing touches on the win against Notre Dame, their fourth straight triumph in a bowl game, the young Laurinaitis watched his team's seniors celebrate the bowl win on the podium.

"I remember looking back to my freshman year and seeing AJ and Bob and all the seniors up on the stage, holding the trophy and kissing it and all that and thinking to myself, ‘Man, I can't wait until next year to get on the stage and do that,' " he said.

Of course, Ohio State fans know how this story ends.

"But I haven't been able to get on the stage and do that," Laurinaitis said next.

The Buckeyes' postseason failings are known to all Ohio State fans. There's the one that started all of the national questions about OSU, the 41-14 drubbing at the hands of Florida in the 2006 BCS title game, and then there's last year's 38-24 loss to LSU in another game for the national title.

As a result, the last two senior classes have gone out without victories, a fate this year's decorated squad is desperately trying to avoid.

"The phrase that's always true to me is you're only remembered for your last game," cornerback and Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins said.

"It would be nice to put on a good one for ourselves and for everybody," Laurinaitis added.

The members of the 2006 and '07 senior classes surely would like another chance at their final games. But while last year's group of seniors, a small group headlined by an offensive lineman in Kirk Barton, didn't exactly have its reputation thrown down the drain, the '06 class really suffered a blow.

That group featured an outstanding mix of players who contributed mightily to Ohio State in their careers, a list that included players like Brandon Mitchell, Quinn Pitcock, Doug Datish, Jay Richardson, David Patterson and T.J. Downing.

But no player meant more to Ohio State fans than Troy Smith. The quarterback from Cleveland Glenville overcame legal and NCAA troubles – as well as being passed over for the starting job in 2004 in favor of classmate Justin Zwick – to become one of the best quarterbacks in school history. He was rewarded with the Heisman Trophy after throwing for four touchdown passes during that year's end-of-season clash with Michigan.

It seemed like there was nothing that Smith couldn't do for Ohio State – until he had less than 100 total yards during the blowout loss at the hands of Florida, a loss that to some hovers over his career record at Ohio State. Some might say the program has not yet recovered from the loss and the resulting national perception of OSU.

"Unfortunately, for Troy and them it was a 41-14 blowout," Jenkins said of that class's last game. "That's what everybody's going to think of: ‘Yeah, Troy won the Heisman, he was a Michigan killer, but at the same time, it's like, what happened in the Florida game?' "

"They were all part of a great program," Nader Abdallah added, "I think it really hurt them, and it's definitely very meaningful because people will always remember that game. It's pretty sad they couldn't leave on a high note."

The next words of out Abdallah's mouth were telling.

"That's what we're trying to prevent right now," he said.

The current class of Ohio State Buckeyes has had a record that matches up with just about any that came before it. Over the last four years, Ohio State has appeared in BCS bowls every year and in two national title games, winning four Big Ten titles in the process and compiling a 43-7 record to tie the program record for wins from a senior group.

Capturing the Fiesta Bowl would give this group of Buckeyes that historic record, but even more important is the difference between going out like A.J. Hawk and going out like Troy Smith

"For us, we have an opportunity to not write our history like (the 2006 class) and to get a win and not have all those losses cloud all the great things we've done at Ohio State," Jenkins said.

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