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BCS TITLE GAME

Fill-in-the-blank Buckeyes

The no-name Ohio State offense and defense enjoy relative anonymity after last season's celebrated team painfully didn't measure up under the biggest spotlight

January 05, 2008|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Ohio State's starting quarterback was a no-show for the first day of media interviews advancing Monday night's national title game against Louisiana State.

No one seemed the least bit outraged.

People just sort of went about their business. Some may have even wondered: "Who is the Ohio State quarterback?"

Answer: Last season it was Heis-man, this season it's Boeck-man.

The 2006 Ohio State squad was loaded with loud-entrance leaders. The quarterback, Troy Smith, arrived in Arizona for the national title game fresh off the rubber-chicken, awards-banquet circuit.

The wide receivers, Anthony Gonzalez and Ted Ginn Jr., were genuine stars.

What stories!

Gonzalez went by the nickname "Gonzo." His Cuban grandfather went to school with Fidel Castro and later helped overthrow Batista.

Ginn Jr. was a former national champion in the 110 high hurdles. He was so fast you might pay to see him race a horse.

Both of Ohio State's "G-men" became first-round NFL picks.

This season's Ohio State team has a star linebacker named James Laurinaitis, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, and a bunch of no-names and funny names.

As important to knowing Ohio State's depth chart is knowing their pronunciation guide.

Page eight of the Buckeyes' postseason media book is a big help:

* Quarterback, Todd Boeckman: BECK-man.

* Left guard, Steve Rehring: RARE-ing.

* Place kicker, Ryan Pretorius: preh-TORE-ree-us.

* Punter, A.J. Trapasso: tra-PASS-oh.

Did you know Ohio State has two tailbacks named Wells?

The starter is nicknamed "Beanie" and wears jersey No. 28. His backup, Maurice (no relation), is No. 34.

Last season Ohio State had blue-chip players and solid BCS backing. The Buckeyes were undefeated and favored to crush lucky-to-be-there Florida.

"Last year, everyone was like, 'Man, you guys are going to win,' " offensive tackle Alex Boone said this week. "You guys got Troy, you got Teddy, Gonzo, you have all these superstars, you can't lose."

Ohio State lost, 41-14.

Boone: "This year it's like, 'Who do you have?' You have Beanie and James, that's great, but who else?' "

Maybe that's enough.

Maybe anonymity, as opposed to acclaim, is the better way to make a title-game entrance.

You sense Ohio State players are very, very happy to have sneaked into the BCS back door.

"This year we're just a blue-collar team," Boone said. "No one knows who we are. We're just playing for ourselves, and that's the mind-set right now."

Last season, they debuted at No. 1 in the first BCS standings on Oct. 16 and didn't slow down until Florida hit them with that surprise ending.

Looking back, you could see how it happened.

"We came in with a Heisman winner," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said Friday. "We felt we had some invincible guys on the offensive side."

Worthington prefers this year's flight plan.

"We came in under the radar and worked our way up," he said of his Buckeyes, who entered the season ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll. "The egos weren't as big because we've been underdogs all year. "

This year it's LSU trying to avoid the trap.

Ohio State?

"They're not the same names," LSU All-America defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said, "but they have those caliber players on the team."

The Buckeyes have certainly been hardened by last season's desert disaster.

Boone remembers arriving home to Columbus after the wipeout loss to Florida.

"You come back and you're expecting to see all these fans and nobody's there," Boone said. "Nobody wants to talk to you. Nobody wants to be your friend. A lot of people called after the game and cursed me out."

Enemies?

"Oh no," Boone said. "My friends. They say a good friend will always tell you the truth. So I guess they're pretty good friends."

With all those superstars lost, there was no way Ohio State could challenge for the title again this year -- or so went the prevailing thought.

Tackle Kirk Barton recalled of last summer's Big Ten media day: "Nobody picked us higher than third. Some picked us fourth. And they said watch out for a couple other teams that could even vault in front of us."

Last season's title run was a romp compared to this season's ridiculousness.

A series of upsets tossed Ohio State to the top -- twice.

The Buckeyes were No. 1 on Nov. 10 when a home loss to Illinois seemingly crushed all title hopes.

Ohio State fell from No. 1 to No. 7 in the BCS standings and refocused on beating Michigan and earning the Pasadena prize that came with it.

"I thought we'd end up in the Rose Bowl playing USC," safety Anderson Russell said.

However, another wave of upsets swept Ohio State back to No. 1 on Dec. 2 and fast-forwarded the Buckeyes into Monday's matchup against LSU.

It is a humbled, grounded and grateful Ohio State group that returns to this title-game scene.

For Christmas, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel gave his players a 12-minute lowlight DVD in which the Buckeyes were trashed by various talking-head pundits.

Boone, the Buckeyes' 313-pound tackle, was big enough to take it, but he made the mistake of allowing his grandmother, Noreen Sulzer, to watch the DVD.

"My grandma is folding clothes and going nuts," Boone said. "I gotta remind her she's a little older, calm down."

The Buckeyes -- BUCK-eyes -- are back in the BCS title game.

This season, though, their presence is not so pronounced.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Another chance

A list of BCS title games shows how Ohio State and Louisiana State have fared:

*--* Jan. 8, 2007 Florida 41, Ohio State 14 Jan. 4, 2006 Texas 41, USC, 38 Jan. 4, 2005 USC 55, Oklahoma 19 Jan. 4, 2004 Louisiana State 21, Oklahoma 14 Jan. 3, 2003 Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (OT) Jan. 3, 2002 Miami 37, Nebraska 14 Jan. 3, 2001 Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2 Jan. 4, 2000 Florida St. 46, Virginia Tech 29 Jan. 4, 1999 Tennessee 23, Florida State 16 *--*

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