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PHOENIX - The intrigue over Ohio State's plans at quarterback that has been building nonstop in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl got cranked up
another notch yesterday when the Buckeyes' presumed starter was a no-show for a scheduled mass meeting with the media.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel had taken several opportunities earlier this week to suggest he might use senior captain Todd Boeckman, who lost the starting job to freshman Terrelle Pryor just three games into the season, in the same formations with Pryor when the Buckeyes face Texas on Monday.
When Pryor, who went 8-1 leading the Buckeyes, was absent from the huge ballroom where the Ohio State starters fielded questions from the national press, the buzz took a new twist.
Was Boeckman now starting? Is Pryor so elusive the media could not catch him? Or was his absence just part of a new protection package for Pryor, designed to shield him from any bull rush of questions, as well as the Texas defense?
Tressel chose to keep his ultra-talented freshman quarterback under wraps, secluded back at the team's headquarters. Tressel said he still plans to start Pryor, the Big Ten's freshman of the year, and claimed he was not aware of any bowl stipulation that mandated the starters be part of media day.
"They asked that we limit it to 30 players, and as we've said quite often, this particular game is in large part about our 28
seniors," Tressel said. "So we put together a list of 30 people that we thought would be good to come over here, and another 75 are over watching film and getting ready and preparing."
Tressel said he felt Pryor's time would be better spent working on preparing for Texas.
"My feeling is he probably had something that would be more impactful on our cause and that was to spend time in the meeting room," he said. "We want him doing more homework. That's what we're here for."
Ohio State senior defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said he thinks Pryor can handle himself just fine, regardless of the setting.
"He is doing amazing things as a freshman," Jenkins said. "I think we have groomed him to where he can be confident in himself. When he first got [to Ohio State], especially with me, he earned everything he got. Now, he is where he is now. He has done very well."
CAPTAIN BOECKMAN: Despite being relegated to a back-up role three games into the season, when he was replaced by the freshman Pryor, Boeckman stressed that he maintains a prominent role with the Buckeyes and is ready to play if Pryor gets injured.
"I am still the captain of this football team. I am the senior leader and one play away," Boeckman said. "You always have to go out there and practice hard and do the right thing in the film room and on the field and be that leader. You never know what can happen on any given play."
THE BIG ONE: Ohio State senior linebacker James Laurinaitis has kept his cool under a seemingly endless string of questions about the Buckeyes' inability to win big games, especially the last two national championship contests. Laurinaitis said that is what people have chosen to focus on, and all that Ohio State can do to change it is win over Texas.
"For whatever reason, people have that perception, that we can't win the big games," Laurinaitis said.
"We have won some big ones - going down to Austin and beating Texas a couple years ago, coming from behind and beating Wisconsin on the road this year, and beating No. 2-ranked Michigan team in 2006 - but that's not what they choose to focus on. All we can do to fix that is win this bowl game."
DESERT MAGIC: Tressel said he is enjoying this bowl more than any other because of the huge Ohio State senior class and the fact so many of them stayed to see their careers through to the end.
"There is something magical about the makeup of this team with so many older kids, so many kids who had been through so much, whether they were playing or not," he said. "Just to have them have this final opportunity to go through the bowl experience, number one, and play a team like Texas, number two, to me, it made this extra special."33.44826 -112.0758