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N. Illinois first to test Buckeyes as No. 1



Published: Sat, September 2, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Ohio State should relish its ranking, says athletic director Gene Smith.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Joe Novak grew up an Ohio State fan and was around for one of the worst moments in Buckeyes football. Now he'd like to repeat it.

As an assistant to Bill Mallory, he was on the sidelines in 1987 when Indiana pulled off a shocker that prompted then-Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce to say, "Since I became a freshman at Ohio State in 1949, it's got to be the darkest day I've seen in Ohio State football."

Now the coach at Northern Illinois, Novak is presented with taking on the nation's No. 1-ranked team on Saturday before a rabid crowd of 105,000 at Ohio Stadium in the season-opener for both teams.

"I'd love to win this football game," said Novak, a Cleveland native. "I can't tell you how much it would do for this program. It would be the biggest victory ever."

Or it could be an even darker day at Ohio State.

Don't look ahead to Texas

The Buckeyes, coming off a 10-2 season that included a share of the Big Ten title and a victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, have been voted No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll five times -- but have never ended up No. 1 in any of those seasons.

"It's funny that you bring it up because I think about that the most," quarterback Troy Smith said of the No. 1 ranking. "Who says that we can't write our own ticket, and put our place in history, doing something that nobody else has done? That's a huge thing. With these 18 seniors, this great group of guys that we do have, we'll be able to do it."

The Buckeyes must guard against looking past the Huskies to their date in Austin Sept. 9 against No. 3 Texas.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith addressed the team several weeks ago and told the players they should relish being the top dogs -- and staying on top.

"How do you distinguish yourself or differentiate yourself from all the teams that have made great history here?" he said. "You start out No. 1 and you end up No. 1. You embrace it."

Not everyone is convinced, despite all that offensive firepower, that the Buckeyes are unbeatable.

"They have great athletes all over the field. On paper, no one can play them," said Northern Illinois tailback Garrett Wolfe. "There's a reason the games are played on the field."

Wolfe will test an untested Ohio State defense that lost its top eight tacklers and all of its starting linebackers and defensive backs from a year ago.




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