Buckeyes try to stay focused on opponent


COLUMBUS - Ohio State has finished the last two football seasons ranked No. 2 in the country, and that is where the Buckeyes start 2008.

With 29 straight wins in home-openers, and a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opponent visiting a jammed Ohio Stadium, it should be a routine day at the office for the Buckeyes, were it not for what happened a year ago in Ann Arbor.

Michigan was in a similar situation in 2007, with a top-five, veteran-loaded team opening up at home as a huge favorite before 100,000 of the faithful, and a I-AA opponent served up on a platter. When Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines 34-32, everyone at Ohio State and elsewhere took notice.

"You always take every opponent seriously, but that was a reminder and a wake-up call for everyone about just how important that is," Ohio State All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis said when the Big Ten's top players and coaches gathered in Chicago prior to the start of preseason camp.

"Every team comes into Ohio Stadium ready to give us their best shot, so we always have to be fully prepared and ready."

The Buckeyes hope to avoid a fate as historic as Michigan's when Youngstown State returns here today.

Ohio State was a 38-6 winner over the Penguins in last season's opener.

"That's a tough team. They played us tough last year," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said, recalling that the Buckeyes led just 14-3 with less than a minute to play in the first half.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who led the program at Youngstown State for 15 seasons before taking over the Buckeyes eight years ago, said bringing his former team to Ohio Stadium for the first time last year was a special event in his life.

"I think the first time you do anything, it's a little bit different, and especially something as emotional as playing against somewhere where you were for 15 years," Tressel said.

"It's still a little bit different. You're sitting there watching [the film of] the same field that you used to watch for 15 years before, and you wonder if you're in Ground Hog Day or whatever. So it's a little different, but not totally different than a year ago."

Tressel expects the Penguins, who went 7-4 last season and are currently ranked No. 12 in the FCS poll, will be less in awe of the surroundings this time around, and present more of a challenge. Youngstown State won four I-AA national championships under Tressel, and has 19 wins over Division I opponents since 1981.

"They're a physical bunch, and just like we told our guys going into last year's game, their defense is going to fill up the box and they're going to dare you to run," Tressel said. "And you're going to have to handle more guys being there than you can conceivably block, and if you're going to beat them, you're going to have to throw."

Offensively, Tressel said Youngstown has a couple of new quarterbacks, and indications are the Penguins will use some variation of the spread offense. The starter at quarterback is junior Todd Rowan, backed up by junior Brandon Summers, a transfer from the University of Toledo.

"We really don't know what they're going to be doing because there's a whole bunch of different kinds of spread," Tressel said. So it's a little bit of a guessing game for us. There are spreads where the pass is primary. There are spreads where the run is primary and there are spreads where you do it all. So we're preparing as if they can do it all."

Contact Matt Markey

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