Buckeyes fly to Arizona to begin Fiesta planning
Ohio State will play Kansas State for the first time.
PHOENIX (AP) -- Ohio State and Kansas State flew into Arizona on Friday to begin a week of preparation and celebration leading up to next Friday's Fiesta Bowl, the first football meeting of the two schools.
Despite the usual mariachi band, red carpet and legion of Fiesta Bowl organizers in yellow coats, Ohio State arrived to less fanfare than a year ago, when the Buckeyes were playing for the national championship.
Ohio State went on to beat Miami in double-overtime, one of the greatest college football games ever played.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said at an airport ceremony that his players need to understand that, in order to be successful, they're going to have to play better this year than they did a year ago.
"Kansas State is an extraordinary team," Tressel said.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats (11-3) earned their first BCS bid with a stunning 35-7 rout of then-No. 1 and unbeaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.
No. 7 Ohio State (10-2) would have been headed for the Orange Bowl, but Fiesta officials exercised an "economic priority" provision that allowed them to pick ahead of the Orange.
The result is a Big Ten-Big 12 matchup of two schools that send huge followings to bowl games.
Kansas State comes with momentum, but Ohio State has the tradition and a tough defense that tends to keep every game close.
"They're a football team that understands how to win," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "They do all the right things to give themselves the best possible chance to win, and they don't beat themselves."
The game is sandwiched between the Thursday's Rose Bowl between No. 1 Southern California and No. 5 Michigan, and the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, the BCS championship game between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma.
The schedule helps the Fiesta from being overlooked in the controversy involving what amounts to two national title games.
"I think anyone that knows college football and looks at the bowl lineup is probably happy that this game is on Friday the second and kind of stands alone," Tressel said, "because everyone knows the quality that Kansas State showed that last weekend against Oklahoma and throughout the year.
"I think everyone has appreciated the great effort that the Buckeyes have made throughout the entire 2003 schedule," Tressel said. "I think there will be plenty of people tuned in and checking this game out."
The players from both teams scattered for the Christmas holiday. Kansas State arrived early Friday afternoon, then worked out at Scottsdale Community College. Ohio State will practice starting Sunday at Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix.
Kansas State beat Syracuse in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Eve, 1997, before the BCS was formed.
Tressel will be coaching his last game with Mark Dantonio as defensive coordinator. Dantonio was hired Monday as head coach at Cincinnati. He will coach the Ohio State defense through the Fiesta Bowl.
Tressel said he expects Dantonio's replacement to come from within the Ohio State staff.