Winning for Luke

By Matt Finkes on August 25, 2011 at 11:00a
2011W Ohio State Football Preview

This year is without a doubt the most anticipated season opener in recent Ohio State history. 

The stakes were similar 17 years ago.

There have been coaching changes in Ohio State's past and there will be more again in the future.  What makes this opener different is not the anticipation of the Buckeye fans, but of the Buckeye players. 

The questions that are ringing in the ears of the fans are the very same ones that are echoing inside of the helmets at the WHAC.  The team may be a little more confident than the fans, but all of the same questions remain. 

Only Woody Hayes has had a more public and embarrassing departure from the OSU program than Jim Tressel.  Isn't it ironic that the two most beloved coaches in school history have left under such negative circumstances? 

Regardless, much like Woody's abrupt departure left a strong roster behind for Earle Bruce, Tressel has left a cupboard full of talent for his successor, even if some of the best goodies aren't available until game six in Lincoln. 

That said, the obstacles facing this team and the coaching staff are far more numerous than any other in past transition years and, believe me, the players are quite aware of them.

Each year during Ohio State's designated media day, the players recite the same lines: "We aren't concerned about our ranking, we will go out and try to win each game one at a time, the best players will play, et cetera."  But each year the players know how they're perceived in the public eye, understand what is expected from them and are fully aware of what they must achieve in order to have a successful season. 

We all knew in 1994 that if we didn't beat Michigan it could cost Coach Cooper his job.  Michigan co-captain Walter Smith was kind enough to confirm this to the media.  I will guarantee you this year's team believes it needs to win the first five games to give Coach Fickell the best chance at extending his contract. 

Whether that is explicitly going into Ohio State's evaluation of Fickell does not matter; it is the perception, which has a funny way of becoming reality.  So along with this pressure, the media circus, the suspended players, the quarterback battle and everything else, all that this group of players can hope for in the form of a release is to finally get on the field.

Ohio State needs to win & win big.

College football is different from every other level of the sport in that players don't get to scrimmage or play against another team until it counts.  That wait is excruciating after going through three long weeks of camp hitting the same guys over and over and over again.  

Tempers flare and sometimes genuine animosity is formed between units.  All of that tension is then finally released on that first Saturday.  The only difference being this year the pressure could be at an unprecedented boiling point. 

This year there is no room for a 4-6-1 or 7-5 record as Coach Cooper and Coach Tressel respectively experienced in their first years at the helm.  Many are saying anything short of nine or ten wins could mean a pink slip for Luke. 

Believe me, the players have heard this.  With the scrutiny of national media, anything but a blowout win against Akron could set the team back in people's eyes.  Make no mistake, though the waters seem calm, the sharks of the national media are just below the surface.

Nothing matches running out onto the field at the Shoe for the very first time.  I can only imagine running out for the first time with so much purpose.  Circling the wagons has never had so much meaning to a Buckeye team.  

It still means a heck of a lot to put on that uniform.  You play for your school, your team, your family and the entire state of Ohio.  I think all Buckeye fans will be pleased to see what happens when you back this team into a corner this upcoming season.

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