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Published: Monday, 1/5/2009

Unfamiliar role for OSU

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

PHOENIX - Ohio State as a significant underdog. That's a suit Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel does not wear too often.

But with No. 3 Texas the clear-cut favorite over the No. 10-ranked Buckeyes in tonight's Fiesta Bowl, Longhorns coach Mack Brown thinks Tressel will be functioning in a very comfortable position.

"I think you will see a loose Jim Tressel that will go for it and keep the guns down the whole game," Brown said. "There is probably more pressure on us in this game than them coming in, with everybody thinking we were supposed to win."

Tressel said the perceived underdog role won't change the way he approaches the matchup with Texas.

"Oh, I'm loose. I think more than loose. I'm just appreciative to be here, and for the opportunity, especially for our 28 seniors. But you do want to let it all hang out," Tressel said. "This is their last opportunity and you are not going to hold anything in reserve, especially playing against a great team, arguably the best team in the country."

Brown said he was rankled by all the criticism Tressel and Ohio State have taken over the losses in the national championship games of the past two years. Brown said that micro-analysis of the Buckeyes was silly and that he favored looking at the "body of work" of a coach or a program.

"Based on one game, everybody changes their opinions, and I think that's absolutely ridiculous," Brown said. "To me, Jim has been the most consistent football coach and team for at least the last two years, because he is the only guy whose team played for the national championship two years in a row. He is the only guy that has been in those games."

Brown said the importance of making it to the title game should not be diminished by the fact one team has to come away from it as second-best.

"It's tougher, because it's almost better to be third and win than it is to be second and lose, because people forget it and say you didn't win the big game," Brown said. "But how many can get to that game? It is a great compliment to him and his program. They have gotten there."

Tressel said each season, each team, and each game are distinct, and that he hopes his players are zeroed in on Texas and tonight's Fiesta Bowl.

"If we're thinking about anything other than that, it is going to distract you from a very difficult task," he said. "I would hope that there are not guys on our team that are disappointed that they happened to make the national championship game the last two years, because that's not too bad."

THROWING SOMETHING: Brown said the college football bowl system needs to be revamped in order to utilize a better formula for determining the ultimate champion, but he does not advocate eliminating bowl games.

"We love the bowl system. I played at Vanderbilt, and when I saw Vanderbilt kick a last-second field goal to win their first bowl game since 1955, there will be no team or coaching staff any happier than that Vanderbilt staff was," Brown said.

"We do not need to take that away from college football. It is an exciting time. I see 7-5 teams throwing Gatorade on their coach. At Texas if we were 7-5 they would be throwing something on me, but it wouldn't be Gatorade, I will tell you that."

NEW SHERIFF: While rumors swirled yesterday that Ohio State junior receiver Brian Hartline might have made some breech of conduct that has him in Tressel's doghouse, Brown laid out his approach for keeping his players in line and on-task at the bowl site.

"We get them up really early in the morning. We practice them really hard, and then we really, really control where and what they do at night," Brown said. "We want it to be fun, but we want it to be clean fun. Bowl games are fun, but if you go and you have only fun and you don't work and you lose, you won't be going back."

KISSING BANDIT: Brown said he has a system in place that gets his players in their rooms on time, and it involves assistant coach Ken Rucker.

"We have had an eleven o'clock curfew most of the week that we've been out here, and we have checked every bed, every night," Brown said.

"One of the coaches said if he smelled any alcohol on them, he would kiss them. That took care of that. As far as I know, nobody has been kissed by coach Rucker before they went to bed."

COME MONDAY: After all of the comparisons that have been drawn between Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and former Texas great Vince Young, Tressel said he would love to see Pryor follow Young's path to success - only faster.

"I'm sure deep down that Vince Young is one of the role models Terrelle has for playing that position, and we certainly hope he becomes as good as Vince Young by, like, Monday," Tressel said.

SMOKE SIGNALS: Two-Time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is serving as the Fiesta Bowl's grand marshal. The driver known as "Smoke" kept his Chevrolet Corvette in line and running at a slow crawl during the parade, and Stewart promised to drive right down the middle when he walks the sidelines at tonight's game and not throw his support behind the Buckeyes or the Longhorns.

"I own a race track in Ohio [Eldora Speedway], but a few of our sponsors have some really strong ties to Texas," Stewart said. "So I'm going to take a page from the Fiesta Bowl's playbook and say that I just want to see a really good game."



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