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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Juniors set for last bowl game

Buckeyes trying to put 2012 ban behind them

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

JACKSONVILLE -- Zach Boren winced a bit when reminded that Monday's Gator Bowl will be his final postseason game as an Ohio State Buckeye.

One of about two dozen juniors on the team, Boren has had to face the cold, hard fact that this is the amen bowl game -- not just for the OSU seniors, but for him too.

"We really try not to think about that," Boren said as he stood on the field at the University of North Florida where the Buckeyes have been holding their practices this week.

"That's next year, but right now we've got to concentrate on this bowl game."

A recent NCAA ruling slammed the door shut on any postseason play for the Buckeyes in the 2012 season. No Big Ten championship game, regardless if the Buckeyes win the Leaders Division, since conference rules would prevent such an appearance. No national championship game, no BCS bowl, no second-tier bowl, or even a hot-n-ready bowl.

Ohio State was sanctioned for a series of violations that took place under the watch of former head coach Jim Tressel.

Most of the players involved in those indiscretions will be gone next year when the bowl-ban is in place. Ohio State also was slapped with a reduction in scholarships as a result of its numerous infractions.

"When I heard it, I was kind of mad because I knew we'd have a pretty good team next year," said junior running back Jordan Hall, who was one of the Buckeyes suspended by the NCAA at the start of the season for receiving cash for appearing at a charity event.

The 2012 bowl ban means the juniors on the Buckeyes have just 13 games left in their careers. After Monday's Gator Bowl, they will take some time to digest the reality that next season's Nov. 24 game in Columbus against rival Michigan will be their curtain-closer.

Junior tight end Reid Fragel said the sting of missing out on a bowl game in his upcoming senior season has worn off a bit as he and the rest of the Buckeyes have locked in on preparing to face Florida in the Gators' backyard.

"I think every senior-to-be thought about that ban at one point," Fragel said about a no-bowl 2012, "but it's something you put behind you. You can't really dwell on it, and you can't change it, so you just go out and do what you know how to do, which is play football."

The Gator Bowl meeting with Florida on Monday will be Ohio State's 11th straight post-season appearance. That streak ends next year, four short of the OSU record of 15 straight bowl games, set from 1972-86.

Boren said winning the Buckeyes' finale for 2011 is taking precedence over everything else, including anticipation of the immediate future when Urban Meyer takes over as head coach at Ohio State.

"This game is huge because we're 6-6," Boren said. "We need to send these seniors out right and have a winning season ... we know we need to get this win ... and get some momentum going into next year."

Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell, who has been offered the defensive coordinator position by Meyer and is expected to stay on the OSU staff for 2012, said recently the Buckeyes have demonstrated they can handle adversity.

"To me it's just another thing, it's just another hurdle," Fickell said. "If it happens you have to get over it ... our guys have been through it. They've been battle-tested. You're not going to see us complain and whine about it, we're going to continue to move forward."

Fragel said he wasn't bitter over the fact the NCAA penalty and bowl ban would be served by players and coaches who were not involved in the violations. He said the best thing the Buckeyes can do is make Monday's Gator Bowl count.

"Nobody is saying 'woe is me' and all of that stuff," Fragel said. "We were a little aggravated [by the ban], but we'll use that to our advantage."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @MattMarkey.



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