Stepping into Sun Devil Stadium for Fiesta Bowl media day Tuesday, the Ohio State football squad made a triumphant return to the site of its national championship victory of a year ago.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Although it is a return to the Fiesta Bowl, it’s not exactly a triumphant one.
The Buckeyes’ main objective was to go to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to defend their crown. Or at least play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., as Big Ten champions.
Ohio State accomplished neither goal this season, but a 10-2 record was good enough for the Fiesta to extend a Bowl Championship Series at-large invitation to play Big 12 champion Kansas State.
Hello again, Tempe. Glad to be back. Sort of.
"There’s no doubt we’d rather be in New Orleans or be Big Ten champs," quarterback Craig Krenzel said. "But it’s a privilege to be back here. It’s probably the best bowl game in the country, when you take all things into consideration.
"You can’t ask for anything more, except for more at stake. Here, there’s personal pride. In New Orleans, there’s a ring at stake."
The Buckeyes had a chance to be in New Orleans, playing for another ring, had they beaten archrival Michigan in the last game of the regular season. But Michigan running back Chris Perry ran wild, and the Wolverines won,
bumping OSU not only out of Sugar Bowl consideration, but out of the Rose.
Although coming back to the Fiesta is the consolation prize, coach Jim Tressel still made sure to say chamber of commerce-friendly things.
"There’s no emotions about where I’d rather be," Tressel said. "We’re so blessed to be here. When we walked in, there was the sense of excitement. How can you not be excited about having this opportunity?"
Once kickoff comes Friday, OSU figures to treat the Fiesta Bowl like another championship game. After all, as Krenzel said, it’s the last chance for the Buckeyes to achieve a goal.
Defending the national title didn’t work out. Neither did winning the Big Ten championship. That leaves defeating Kansas State, which earned a bid to the Fiesta by drilling previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
"We’re playing in a BCS game and have a chance to be ranked high at the end of the season," defensive end Will Smith said. "That is the motivating goal for us."
Added kicker Mike Nugent: "It’s a good way to end the season, although it’s not the national championship. Kansas State dominated Oklahoma, and if we beat the team that killed Oklahoma, that would be a good feeling."
The walk into Sun Devil Stadium on Tuesday apparently did not conjure up many memories of last year’s game among the Buckeyes, who defeated Miami 31-24 in double-overtime.
Both Tressel and Krenzel said the biggest thing they remember is how long the walk from their locker room to the field was. Nugent said that his familiarity with the Sun Devil Stadium turf should help him on Friday.
However, there were few remarks about the stunning win against the Hurricanes and the championship elation that followed — possibly because the Buckeyes know there will be no repeat experience this time.
"It’s a new year," Smith said. "I’m not dwelling on the past."