August 18, 2013

Buckeyes talk No. 2 ranking

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There several different ways that one could imagine a college football player would feel about having his team ranked among the nation's best entering the start of the season.

Indifferent, however, is not usually one of them.

But that's exactly the vibe that Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett gave off when asked about the Buckeyes' being named the No. 2 team in the country in The Associated Press' Top-25 preseason poll on Saturday. OSU may have the respect of the voters, but that doesn't seem to mean much to Bennett, and not just because the Buckeyes will start the season trailing No. 1 Alabama.

"I don't know. I don't follow that kind of stuff," the junior defensive tackle said. "I guess it feels good."

The only poll that they were eligible for in 2012 as they endured a postseason ban and NCAA sanctions, Ohio State finished third in last season's final Associated Press poll, behind the national champion Crimson Tide and runner-up Notre Dame. The Buckeyes were the only team in the country to post an undefeated record with a 12-0 mark in Urban Meyer's first season in Columbus, but their lack of a conference title game and bowl game appearance prevented them from being true national championship contenders.

That won't be the case this year, with OSU's postseason ban that was brought on by NCAA violations committed by former head coach Jim Tressel and members of his 2010 team having expired. The Buckeyes now find themselves in the driver's seat for an appearance in the final BCS National Championship Game, and on a possible collision course for a big-time matchup with Alabama, the winner of three of the past four national titles.

A reminder that the Buckeyes essentially do control their own destiny this season did bring some optimism to Bennett's voice, however short-lived it may have been.

"It feels good that people took us seriously last year instead of just like, 'Oh, they can't go to a bowl game' and that kind of stuff," he said. "I hear that people think the Big Ten's not a good conference or something like that, but I don't know, it feels good I guess. I personally don't think it matters too much, 'cause once again, it's preseason."

Bennett's nonchalant approach to preseason rankings seems to echo that of his head coach's, although Meyer has admitted that he'd rather be ranked higher than not. OSU sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said that his team's No. 2 ranking will only draw more attention to the Buckeyes, from both opponents and critics alike.

"Everybody in the Big Ten's going to be coming after us, which is what we expect. We gotta expect their best shot from all those guys," Perry said. "People are going to be turning on their TV all around America, whether or not they like the Buckeyes, they're probably going to be watching. There's definitely that target and that spotlight on us. We gotta be ready to go."

Whether Ohio State's preseason ranking proves to be a plus, a problem, or something in between the two remains to be seen. But with the added benefit of postseason play now readily available to them, it's safe to say that the Buckeyes will be far from satisfied with where they stand at just the start of the season.

"We didn't get to do all the things we wanted to do," sophomore defensive end Noah Spence said. "We're still real hungry."


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