Buckeyes Ready To Face Challenges

Dealing with expectations is a tricky subject at a place like Ohio State. The Buckeye football team does it every year, and this year's tact appears to include the fundamental understanding this squad has the talent to achieve even its highest goals. Getting to that point, then, becomes the trick.

Even Jim Tressel, the master of managing expectations, couldn't help but tell the assembled mass of media at the Big Ten media kickoff that his 10th Buckeye team could be capable of big things.

"I think we're very capable team," the Ohio State coach said after his team was chosen as the media's preseason favorite to win the league. "I think we should be a team that's being targeted."

For the master of Tresselspeak, that's almost the equivalent of a professional wrestler grabbing the microphone and calling out the manhood of his fellow combatants.

The coach has built a reputation for cocooning his charges from the expectations of fans and media, all except for those created inside the program. While high, those expectations are rarely verbalized from the beginning, with the plan to simply focus on the old-fashioned but useful mentality of one game (or practice) at a time.

But there will be no getting around the hype this year. Not only have the Buckeyes been chosen to win the Big Ten – for what would be the sixth year in a row, tying a league record – but they will almost assuredly begin the season ranked in the top three of the national polls.

In 2010, that's fine with Tressel.

"I think our guys know we want to be the favorite," he said. "That's our goal. And at the end of the year, we want to be the champion. That's our goal. Now, what has to be done for that to come true? That's what we shoot for. We want to be the Big Ten champions."

After going through the team's offseason workouts, wideout Dane Sanzenbacher couldn't help but agree that Ohio State has the talent on hand to make a run at a national championship this season.

"Absolutely," Sanzenbacher said. "I think every year since we've been here, we've felt we had the talent to do it. It all comes down to execution when you get into the games. There's not really a question that we're going to be able to recruit the talent. We have to do it come stretch time."

That talent got the Buckeyes to the national title game in 2002, '06 and '07 in Tressel's tenure, but the last two seasons have left OSU fans feeling as though some games were left on the table. The 2008 squad was projected to be among the deepest and best in OSU history, but the plan changed quickly thanks to early-season losses and an injury to back Chris Wells.

Last year, the Buckeyes were projected to go through a rebuilding year but were left wondering what might have been after an 11-2 campaign that included a close home loss to USC and a stunning upset at Purdue.

Though those teams still won Big Ten titles – a share in '08 and the outright crown a year ago – these Buckeyes have learned lessons about how to be in the frontrunner's seat.

"I don't know if you'd say (we relish being the favorite)," Sanzenbacher said. "We can't really pay attention to the rankings. That said, I think we're now in a position where we're always going to have a target on our back. We know going into each week that we're going to get everybody's best shot. It's something we prepare for, and there's nothing else we can do about it."

National contenders will include such powers as Alabama – which won last year's national title in Pasadena and returns Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram – and upstart mid-major Boise State, which should finally start a season high enough to be a real player in the national title picture.

In the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will be challenged by road games at Iowa and Wisconsin, veteran teams which follow OSU in the league's preseason poll. There will also be home games vs. Penn State and Michigan plus four other league contests in what Tressel calls one of the strongest Big Tens he's seen.

Add in a marquee preconference game against visiting Miami and the Buckeyes – talent or not – must be ready to play each game. If they do, everything else will take care of itself.

"If we're ranked high, it doesn't mean that much because it just means you can fall even lower," preseason All-American Cameron Heyward said. "We have a great task this year. We have a lot of good teams in this conference, and we can be beat anytime. It's going to be up to our team to take care of it.

"If we really want to look at the rankings, we have to look after the season. That's the only time it really matters."

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