Sunday, January 5, 2003

Buckeyes want to repeat

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - Jim Tressel loves to tell the story of how, after he won his first I-AA national championship as the coach of Youngstown State, he was met by a reporter as he left the field.

"Can you repeat?" the reporter asked Tressel.

The point of the story for Tressel is that success is fleeting. No sooner do you win a national title than people are asking you if you can do it again. No one ever savors the moment.

So it came as no shock after No. 2 Ohio State's dramatic 31-24 double-overtime thriller over No. 1 Miami in Friday night's Fiesta Bowl that Tressel was kiddingly asked if he thought he could repeat.

"Life is about what comes next," the Buckeyes' second-year head coach said. "You know, we'll go to work pretty soon."

One winning streak has ended - defending champion Miami's 34-game run through college football - that matched the sixth longest major-college hot streak ever.

Another one may just be getting started.

Ohio State reeled off 14 wins in a row to capture its first national championship since the 1968 season.

The scary part for opponents is that Ohio State was considered a year away this season.

The Buckeyes lose only backup flanker Chris Vance on offense. From the defense that forced five turnovers and limited one of the nation's finest offenses to just 65 rushing yards, five starters graduate including three-time All-American strong safety Mike Doss and first-team All-American linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

Yet almost everyone believes the Buckeyes may be a lot better in 2003.

"What do we do next? We go back to the national championship," said defensive back Will Allen, who knocked Miami tailback Willis McGahee out of the game with a crunching hit in the fourth quarter. "You work even harder. Now we're marked. Teams are really going to try to come after us next year. We've got to stay poised, stay focused and keep going. Just keep fighting and scrapping.

"Pretty soon, everybody'll be talking about us like they talked about Miami."

The Buckeyes face a formidable schedule next fall, although the first five games are at Ohio Stadium: Washington, San Diego State, North Carolina State, Bowling Green and Northwestern. Ohio State will play Big Ten co-champion Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue at home, with road games against Wisconsin, Indiana, Penn State and rival Michigan.

"We want to go out and put up a winning streak like Miami did," starting cornerback/flanker Chris Gamble said.

The returnees include quarterback Craig Krenzel, leading receiver Michael Jenkins, the entire offensive line, top rusher Maurice Clarett, three of the four defensive linemen, linebacker Robert Reynolds, both cornerbacks and All-American kicker Mike Nugent.

"We've got a very young team," said cornerback Dustin Fox, who picked off one of Ken Dorsey's two interceptions. "(Secondary) coach (Mel) Tucker always says, 'If you get an A on the first test and then a C on the next one, are you going to settle for a B? No. You want A's all the way through. So we're going to come back and try to repeat."

Both Ohio State coordinators, Jim Bollman on offense and Mark Dantonio on defense, said they were pleased with their units but that they had made numerous mistakes that need to be corrected. Both said there was plenty of room for improvement.

Among the senior losses is four-year starter Donnie Nickey at free safety.

As he cut off inch-thick tape knotted around his ankles, he said, "I told the younger guys, 'I want another one. I'm going to come back for the next one.' We've got a 14-game winning streak. We've got some momentum going into a new season and I want them to top it."

In all, Ohio State will welcome back all but nine of the 45 players listed on its two-deep lineup against Miami.

But not everyone was talking about getting another championship ring.

"You know what? We'll think about repeating in August," defensive end Simon Fraser said. "For now, let's just let this soak in."

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