COLUMBUS - If Ohio State's players are hungry to make up for last year's failure in the BCS title game, imagine what it's like for backup linebacker Larry Grant.
Grant is 0-for-3 in national championship games.
"I haven't won yet. This is my last chance. I've got to come out with a big one this time," said Grant, who played in two junior college national title games while at City College of San Francisco before the Buckeyes' 41-14 loss to Florida last January. "All of them were real tough to take. I know I've got the biggest one of my life showing up in a less than a month."
Ohio State threw itself into full-scale preparations Monday for the Jan. 7 Bowl Championship Series showdown with LSU in the Superdome.
Ever since their last game, a 14-3 win over rival Michigan way back on Nov. 17, the Buckeyes have been waiting to finally get to work. They spent a lot of time on conditioning and lifting weights.
"We've definitely been emphasizing conditioning and strength more than last year," defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said. "I think last year we got a little lax when it came to that sort of thing. It showed. Some guys were out of shape, we were slower. I don't think it's going to be that way this year."
Quarterback Todd Boeckman added, "We're doing a few things differently. Practices have been a little more up-tempo, we're running a little more between practices and the lifting is a lot more intense. Everything is kicked up another notch so that last year won't happen again."
But now the physical conditioning phase is over.
"The first couple practices we started just working on getting back to fundamentals and getting back to basics," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "Now we are starting to move into a little more LSU and more of their packages."
The Buckeyes will work out for three days before splitting up Wednesday night for a holiday break, returning on Dec. 26 for harder, more concentrated bowl workouts. They fly to New Orleans on Jan. 2.
In the post-mortem of last year's BCS loss, most Ohio State fans blamed a 51-day layoff between games and a lack of focus by a veteran team, in addition to Florida's stellar play.
The Buckeyes have a 50-day layoff again this year, but coach Jim Tressel said he's tired of hearing how that lengthy gap was his team's downfall.
"As far as the layoff goes, I think a lot has been made of that," he said. "I've seen some teams play a great game in their opener and they had 6 or 9 months off. It's all about how you use your time and how you are that day."
Still, the Buckeyes have changed their travel plans and practice schedule this season. They will spend more time in Ohio and less at the bowl site.
A year ago, Troy Smith was making the rounds of the banquet circuit after winning the Heisman Trophy. Others were flying around the country for award dinners, too.
Plus four of the top offensive players were juniors who were contemplating leaving school a year early for the NFL draft (three of them left), besides the seniors who were already thinking about making a living playing the game.
"It's hard to guard against life being a distraction," Tressel said. "You have to work hard at being where you need to be mentally. I don't look for that being a huge distraction but, again, we're people and I'd like to think we'll handle that well."
The players are already looking forward to visiting New Orleans. Defensive lineman Nader Abdallah grew up in the city and wide receiver Brian Robiskie lived there while his dad was an assistant coach for the Saints. Both are being consulted about restaurants, nightspots and shopping.
"It will be my first time in New Orleans," defensive end Vernon Gholston said. "You hear a lot about it and Mardi Gras and all of those things. I know Nader Abdallah is from there and he talks a lot about his hometown. It will be neat to go back there with him and just hang out a bit."
Some side trips to see the city - and the aftermath of the flooding from Hurricane Katrina - will be planned for the Buckeyes. Most of the players are excited to be going somewhere different than Arizona, where they have gone for bowl games three of the past four years.
In fact, some have even said that the familiarity with Arizona also worked against them.
"People were talking about this place is a cool place to go or that place," wide receiver Brian Hartline said of the Phoenix area. "They knew the names of the streets. Going there it was so much easier to get unfocused, it being the 'West Columbus of the USA.' Being there [so often] definitely didn't help us, being there 10 days didn't help us.
"Going now to our away game where we really don't know a whole lot down there is really going to help us."39.96196 -83.00298