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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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NIU, Texas may be tough on OSU

COLUMBUS, Ohio -Over the past six weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes have heard again and again about how good they’re going to be.

After all that talk, it’s now time to prove it.

“No one knows if we’re a good football team until we line up,” coach Jim Tressel said yesterday.

The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes take on Northern Illinois on Saturday, opening a September in which they play three ranked teams.

“We play a lot of great teams the first month,” center Doug Datish said. “It does help us focus on the task at hand. You look at those names, it’s not Sister Mary School of the Blind we’re playing. Those are some of the toughest games we’ll have all year.”

While Tressel said he isn’t certain of the caliber of his team, the sixth-year head coach said he had no doubt about the Buckeyes’ first opponent.

“We said long ago that this is going to be a great opener because they give you all the different pressures that you could possibly have and they are a fighting, tough, nasty bunch,” Tressel added. “We know they’re good. They’re going to come in here with nothing on their mind other than a victory.”

That’s the way it is throughout the early going for the Buckeyes. Of course, in Week Two they hit the road to take on No. 3 Texas in a highly anticipate rematch from a year ago. The Longhorns scored late to win 25-22 on their way to their first national title since 1969.

After that first road trip, the Buckeyes host Cincinnati and the team they tied for the Big Ten title last year, 19th-ranked Penn State, before hitting the road for a night game at No. 16 Iowa.

It all starts with Northern Illinois, picked to win the Mid-American Conference title. The Huskies are coming off a 7-5 season in which they lost two games by a point apiece (Northwestern, Akron in the MAC championship game) and another in overtime (Akron again, this time in the regular season).

While every Ohio State fan is already talking nonstop about the second go-round with the Longhorns, the Buckeyes say the only game on their mind is against Northern Illinois.

“I believe it with all my heart,” quarterback Troy Smith said. “Every game is an increment or step you have to take. Northern Illinois is the first step. The games after will come but we have to deal with Northern Illinois first.”

The chief concerns for Ohio State are intertwined. The Buckeyes have new starters at linebacker and in the secondary, while Northern Illinois has a tailback (Garrett Wolfe) who averaged 176 yards rushing a game last season.

“The biggest thing is not to get moved out of the way,” defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. “Their biggest scheme is trying to get Garrett Wolfe going straight ahead. Once he gets a head of steam, he’s tough to stop.”

The Buckeyes haven’t been busy watching “Invincible” or “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” The video machines at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center have been humming with replays of the Huskies against Michigan in the 2005 season opener.

Wolfe (just 5-foot-7, 177 pounds) streaked for 148 yards on 17 carries, including a 76-yard run.

The Huskies also have quarterback Phil Horvath, who completed 71 percent of his passes last season. He had a respectable game against Michigan, hitting 17-of-25 passes for 200 yards with one interception in a 33-17 setback.

Already, some national publications have pinpointed the importance of two or three or four big games for the Buckeyes. Two offensive stars (Smith and receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr.) have their own Web sites touting them for the Heisman Trophy. Comparisons are being drawn between the current team and the one that won seven games by seven or fewer points in 2002 to go 14-0 and win the national championship.

It’s heady stuff – the kind of stuff that can distract a team from the task at hand.

“It’s an honor to be named No. 1,” said defensive tackle David Patterson, with Pitcock the only two starters back on defense. “But at the same time, at Ohio State there are always the expectations of making it to a national championship every year. If we just keep our focus and play one game at a time, that will be the best way to achieve our goals.”

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