The heart of the OSU defense, from left, Lawrence Wilson, Malcolm Jenkins, Larry Grant, Curtis Terry and Donald Washington.
COLUMBUS - At first glance, the Ohio State day planner for the 2007 football season lacks the one early big bopper - an elite non-conference opponent like Texas provided the past two seasons, and Southern California will for the next two years and the Miami Hurricanes for the two years (2010-11) after that.
The Buckeyes instead play at Washington this season, with I-AA Youngstown State, and Kent State and Akron from the Mid-American Conference tucked in and around the customary eight Big Ten games.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he does not think the perceived softness of that non-league segment will work against his team.
"The only way to get penalized for your schedule is to lose games," Tressel said. "If we win our games, we'll be fine. If we lose games, we won't be OK."
Sophomore running back Chris "Beanie" Wells said there are no easy wins on the schedule, since every team wants to build its reputation around beating Ohio State.
"I don't think any team on that schedule is soft at all. We have a bull's-eye on our back every time we take the field, and those guys are gunning to take us down," Wells said. "You just have to be ready to execute and play to the best of your ability."
The Youngstown State game is one that is close to Tressel's heart, and a meeting he has been hoping to arrange for some time. Before coming to Ohio State for the 2001 season, Tressel spent 15 years as coach of the Penguins, leading them to four national championships.
Ohio State senior offensive lineman Kirk Barton expects Youngstown State, Akron and Kent State to all approach their games in Ohio Stadium with the same mentality - nothing to lose, everything to gain.
"We've learned how big these games are for schools from the other conferences, to come into this stadium and take their best shot at the Buckeyes," Barton said. "It would be foolish for us to do anything other than take them as seriously as the rest."
In the Big Ten's odd rotation, the Buckeyes won't play Indiana or Iowa this season, or next. Purdue rotates back onto the schedule after being absent the past two seasons, as does Wisconsin, the preseason runner-up pick to finish second in the conference, ahead of Ohio State.
"All the Big Ten games are tough, but if anything, that part of our schedule probably got tougher," junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "Wisconsin only lost one game last year, and has most everybody back. Purdue beat us the last time we played them, and always seems at its best for Ohio State - but that's pretty much the case with everyone we play."
The Buckeyes play seven times at home, with road trips to Washington, Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan on the schedule. To meet the demands of television, there are three night games on the Ohio State schedule, with the possibility of more being added.
That growing number of night games presents its own issues, according to OSU assistant coach Luke Fickell.
"I think the toughest thing about those night games is coming in the next morning to look at your next opponent," Fickell said. "When you have a day game you can unwind and relax the night before that. Night games always present a larger challenge when it comes to getting ready for the next week."
Senior linebacker Larry Grant said regardless of the starting time, the opponent, or the location, the Buckeyes just need to get out there and play, and wash away the remaining residue from the one-sided loss to Florida in January in the national championship game.
"Everyone is just really hungry. Everyone that was out in Arizona knows that we are 0-1 in 2007," Grant said.
"That has just made everyone work even harder."
GOOD DEAL: Tressel was asked this week if it was fair to charge Buckeyes fans full fare for this weekend's season-opener, even though the opposition was going to be a I-AA team, Youngstown State. Tressel used some applied economics, and personal experience, in his response.
"Yeah, I think it's fair. I've been to a couple concerts and things like that and our tickets are very reasonable," he said. "I was out in Vegas to speak at a Nike clinic and Ellen and I went to see Celine Dion, and it was like $200. You can go to three Ohio State games for that. And I knew the words to the song. At least when you go to the game you don't know what's going to happen, so do I think it's a problem? No."
Tressel wasn't far off. Celine Dion tickets are listed at $204.55 for her Las Vegas show.
"And remember, this about Ohio State football, it's about the band. It's about the pageantry, it's about the tailgating," he said. "If we're silly enough to think it's just about us, then we're a little bit short-sighted. So I guess the answer to the question is, no, I don't think it's unfair."
GAME PLAN: Without divulging any team secrets, or leaving the playbook open, senior fullback Trever Robinson laid out his ideas on what the plan of attack will be against Youngstown State.
"I think this year we'll be more of a running offense, where last year we threw the ball around a lot," he said, surmising that more running will mean more use of the fullback to clear the path. "I think we'll see a little more action this year, and hopefully be able to get in there and be a lead blocker on some more plays."
CONFIDENT VOTE: At the first of his weekly press conferences for the 2007 season, Tressel indicated that the possibility exists for more than half of his most recent recruiting class to play for the Buckeyes this season. He said Toledo Central Catholic product Dane Sanzenbacher is in the group of freshmen who will definitely take the field on Saturday. Sanzenbacher moved into the No. 3 receiver role over the past week or so.
"We have had a little bit of a red-shirting discussion and you start building your special teams and who you're going to put in there, because if they play a play, it's a year," Tressel said.
"And as I listen, and visualize how it may unfold, it looks like more of them will play than redshirt. Exactly how that's going to unfold, I don't know, but we've been very impressed with how quickly they've come along and they got to come in June and they're a little more adjusted maybe than a normal freshman and very talented as well."