For one day, Buckeyes huge fans of Sooners and Panthers



Kiichiro Sato, The Associated Press

By Rusty Miller

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There will be no bigger Oklahoma or Pittsburgh fans anywhere Saturday than the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Should the Sooners upend top-ranked Missouri in the Big 12 championship game, or if the Panthers upset No. 2 West Virginia in their regular-season rivalry, the third-ranked Buckeyes would almost certainly find themselves playing in the BCS national championship game for the second year in a row.

Ohio State defensive lineman Todd Denlinger has already made plans for Saturday.

“Just watching the games somewhere with my friends,” he said. “I may have to go and buy an Oklahoma shirt. It’ll be fun to watch a game, pretty much as a fan for a change.”

The Buckeyes have been rooting for other teams all season, it seems.

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They were No. 11 in the preseason poll but slowly moved their way up the charts while team after team ahead of them fell. They climbed to No. 1 and stayed there for a month before losing 28-21 at home to Illinois on Nov. 10. That dropped them all the way to No. 7 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

They came back to beat rival Michigan 14-3 in their regular-season finale, then have enjoyed watching Oregon, Oklahoma, LSU and Kansas all drop out of the national championship picture.

Should either Missouri or West Virginia fall, the Buckeyes have an answer ready for those who say they backed into the title game.

“People have that theory about us backing in, but we’re 11-1 and a lot of teams have had chances at the first two spots,” offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. “We stubbed our toes along the way and a few teams have stubbed their toes along the way.

“Now if no one else wants to take it, we’ll take it.”

Even if Missouri and West Virginia both win, the Buckeyes will have to settle for the Rose Bowl – quite a consolation prize – and a likely date with Southern California, which would be the most glitzy matchup of the postseason.

“It’s tough because a little bit of you is, like, ‘They have to win so we get to New Orleans!’ But at the same time, we at one time controlled our own destiny. Now we don’t,” linebacker Marcus Freeman said. “We’re just anxious to see who wins and if we happen to go out to Pasadena, that’s no consolation prize, that’s a great accomplishment for any college football team. We’ll be excited to go out there too.”

Since beating Michigan, the Buckeyes have gotten a kick out of being fans.

Just last week, linebacker James Laurinaitis was back home in Minnesota and was able to catch up on some of the drama.

“I was at my sister’s hockey game on Saturday night and between periods when they were Zamboni-ing (the ice), I went down and watched the Kansas-Missouri game,” Laurinaitis said with a grin, referring to Kansas’ first loss of the season. “It’s fun to see how it all plays out.”

So far at least, no official team viewing party has been organized. The Buckeyes have practice Saturday morning, then they’ll likely form in small groups all around town. But they’ll still be linked by text messages and cell phones. Laurinaitis and Barton live only a few doors away from each other, and were already discussing meeting up to watch and talk about the day’s action.

The Buckeyes have been hurting ever since last year’s embarrassing 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS championship game. They plan to use that game as motivation for this year’s bowl game – wherever it is, and whomever the opponent is.

“Last year after the Florida game, we had unfinished business,” center Jim Cordle said. “It’s nice to win the Big Ten but you’ve got to show on the national scene what you’re made of. Now it’s changed so we’re rooting teams on, trying to get in the best game. We’re going to work hard to show how good we are.”