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From agony of OSU loss rise heroes and hopes

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A hometown hero emerged for Mahoning Valley viewers of Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game between Ohio State and Louisiana State.

Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, that hero of the hour was not OSU coach and Youngstown State coaching legend Jim Tressel. Instead it was Bo Pelini, Cardinal Mooney High graduate and LSU defensive coordinator, who played a key role in leading the Tigers to a 38-24 shellacking of OSU in the mother of all college football bowl games. The victory bumped LSU to the No. 1 post and dropped the former No.1 Buckeyes to fifth place in the final collegiate rankings for the 2007 season.

Pelini, a star free safety for OSU in the late ’80s and soon-to-be head coach of Nebraska’s Cornhuskers, ended his LSU career with pizzazz. He fired up his team’s defense quickly, moments after the Buckeyes gained the initial momentum of the game. LSU’s superior defensive and offensive play dominated much of the rest of the match.

Yet despite OSU’s second consecutive loss in the national championship tilt, a wider-angled view reveals enough OSU heroes to give even the most dejected Buckeyes fans solace in defeat and hope for the national title next year.

Certainly among those heroes of the season, one must count Tressel. The four-time national championship YSU coach was gentlemanly in defeat: “We just didn’t do the things you need to do to win a ballgame of this nature. We’re very aware that LSU’s a deserving champion.” But clearly were it not for Tressel’s principled and disciplined leadership, the Buckeyes never would have landed in the New Orleans Superdome for the super bowl of college football.

Creative coaching strategies

Tressel’s flair for creative coaching strategies continued into the BCS as well. For example, he gave his players a 10-minute DVD filled with insults hurled at the Buckeyes by TV and radio announcers, hoping it would get them in gear.

Early on in Monday’s game, things did click. OSU’s Chris “Beanie” Wells broke loose for a 65-year TD run on the fourth play of the bowl. Other players, including quarterback Todd Boeckman, gave their all as well.

But five embarrassing personal-foul penalties against OSU in the game’s first 35 minutes paved the way for LSU to score 31 consecutive points to take control of the game and possession of the championship trophy. The fouls and miscues, however, cannot erase a season of generally strong play by the Scarlet and Gray.

Also among the heroes of the 2007 season are the legions of stalwart fans in the Valley, the state and nation who fill the 100,000-seat Ohio Stadium and wear their OSU pride on their sleeves. That tight fan-base bond strengthens the image of the team, the university and Ohio.

The Buckeyes will need more of the same mix of astute coaches, powerhouse players and committed fans when the team enters the field this August. The 2008 season promises to be challenging with a tougher schedule, including an early game against USC.

But we’re confident the team will learn from its miscues and muster up more consistent quality play so that when January 2009 rolls around, OSU coaches and players can regain their official moniker as the No. 1 heroes of college football.