Buckeyes in critical part of their schedule

By Rusty Miller The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Top-ranked Ohio State’s players are well aware of what they accomplished last week in beating defending national champion and then-No. 2 Texas.

So they have to almost force themselves to concentrate on the task at hand – this week it’s Cincinnati – instead of letting their minds race with thoughts of trophies, rings and national championships.

“You’ll hear that a lot, people saying, ‘You guys won the biggest game, that you won the national title in September,'” linebacker James Laurinaitis said yesterday. “But basically we know we have 10 weeks left to play, we have a lot of games that we need to focus on. One mental lapse can cause an upset.”

The Buckeyes (2-0) find themselves caught in an odd place on their schedule, a week after pulling off a watershed win – 24-7 over the Longhorns – and a week before they open Big Ten play against a Penn State team that beat them a year ago.

That little valley in the schedule hasn’t gone unnoticed, by either team.

“You have to make sure you handle success and that’s a good segue into talking about Cincinnati, because I’m sure as the season began, Cincinnati looked at the Ohio State schedule and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got them right where we want them, between Texas and Penn State,'” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “We’re going to have a Cincinnati team coming in here that is going to play lights out, they’re going to hit us in the mouth and they’re going to play as hard as you can possibly play. And that’s what we need.”

Ohio State has been down this road before, although few of the current players will remember.

The then-No. 6 Buckeyes were 3-0 and coming off a 26-7 victory over No. 10 Washington State when they played Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium in 2002. Bearcats receivers dropped two passes in the end zone in the final minute as Ohio State escaped with a 23-19 win – one of the tightest games in a 14-0 season of tight scrapes that resulted in the school’s first national championship in 34 years.

Tressel, never one to reflect on past games, certainly hasn’t forgotten that near-miss.

“When we played Cincinnati four years ago, I didn’t think we played as well, and I don’t know if it was a mental letdown,” he said. “Our job is just to keep teaching each day and hopefully we don’t look back and say that there was a mental letdown, because if there is, we’ll be in trouble.”

Of course, teams never expect a letdown until it’s too late. Punter A.J. Trapasso, who averaged 50.8 yards on his six punts against Texas, doesn’t see that happening.

“Our guys are so motivated I don’t think we’ll have a letdown the whole season,” he said. “Whether it’s Cincinnati, Penn State or Iowa, we know they’re all capable of beating us so we can’t let up.”

A record crowd and a huge television audience watched the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in a decade. The teams fought on even terms in Austin until the Buckeyes scored late in the first half and Texas’ offense never got untracked against Ohio State’s defense, which features nine first-year starters.

One of the stars for the Buckeyes was receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who had a career-best eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. He said every season has an ebb and flow to it, but that a player has to understand the payoff doesn’t come until the end.

“What did the Texas victory mean? Not much other than the fact that we beat another team,” he said. “Outside of that, we’re not getting a ring for it, we didn’t win any championship as a result of it. So there’s really no reason to sit there and think about that game, as great as it was. Because we didn’t win anything other than a football game.”