Ohio State seniors solidify legacy

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
6:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (33) is part of a senior class that never lost to Michigan, including a 42-7 win Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's senior class always will be viewed through two different prisms.

Within Buckeye Nation, they will forever remain conquering heroes, a group that dominated the Big Ten Conference and archrival Michigan like none before. Ohio State won outright Big Ten titles (2006, 2007) or shared the championship (2005, 2008) in all four seasons that they played.

Ever since the fifth-year seniors set foot on campus back in 2004, Ohio State hasn't lost to Michigan. The Buckeyes' 42-7 victory against Michigan on Saturday ensured the seniors their own chapter in team history.

"I don't think we really realize it now," senior linebacker and co-captain James Laurinaitis said, "but as we get older, we'll look back on our career and stuff and realize to be a part of the first team to win five times in a row is something that is very special."

Backup quarterback and co-captain Todd Boeckman will always remember Ohio State's dominance of Michigan.

"When you get five pairs of gold pants, that's something you never forget," said Boeckman, referring to players' reward for beating Michigan.

Seen through the first prism, the Buckeyes shine through in all their Scarlet and Gray glory.

But there's another prism, one that takes a broader view of the Ohio State seniors from outside the Buckeye State.

National observers acknowledge the group's dominance in the Big Ten and against Michigan, but they can't ignore back-to-back flops in the national title game. They can't ignore a 35-3 loss to USC on Sept. 13. They can't ignore the fact that the Big Ten has lost some luster in recent years.

The second prism shows a mix of bright spots and blotches, a mixed legacy.

"It could be different," defensive end Nader Abdallah said of the seniors' dual legacies. "In Columbus and in Ohio, they take this game very highly. Michigan versus Ohio State, that's a big game. When you win against them, it's always a successful season.

"We'll see when we play our bowl game, how we come out to play. And then people will be able to remember us by a bowl game, seeing us nationally."

With Penn State headed to the Rose Bowl, Ohio State is hoping for an at-large BCS berth, most likely to the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes likely need Oregon State to lose one of its last two games, which probably would limit the Pac-10 to only on BCS entry (USC).

It likely will take a BCS bowl win on the national stage against an elite team, preferably one from the SEC, to solidify the broader legacy of Ohio State's seniors.

But here in Ohio, they'll always be known as local heroes, especially after going 5-0 against Michigan.

"It's hard to believe because it's so difficult," said head coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 7-1 against the Wolverines. "I remember looking up the statistic about three or four years ago of what the winning streaks were, because you've always got to have something in the back of your mind that you're shooting for and just the fact that it was done in the '30s four in a row and done in the '60s four in a row."

Tressel had former Ohio State All-America linebacker Ike Kelley address the team before the game. Kelley played on teams that beat Michigan in every year but 1964, when the Wolverines won 10-0 and claimed the Big Ten championship as well.

Former Buckeyes safety Jack Tatum also spoke to the team about walking through an airport recently as seeing a replay of the only game he lost to Michigan (1969).

"We're blessed to be in a position where we don't have to say that, we don't have to live with that the rest of our lives," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We can always say we beat that team."

Tressel praised the seniors for their dedication and unselfishness, and Laurinaitis recalled how many of the front men -- himself, Jenkins, wide receiver Brian Robiskie, weren't highly regarded recruits coming into the program.

Laurinaitis often chides Jenkins, a future first-round NFL draft pick, about how Jenkins was listed as a two-star prospect before his senior year of high school.

"We were all underrated coming in," Laurinaitis said.

They leave with a few more stars next to their names, a fact not lost on Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit last season.

"I love 'em," Pryor said. "Love is a strong word. I love 'em."

But for the rest of the country to share the love, Ohio State needs to step up in January.

"We would love to win a bowl game, definitely," Laurinaitis said. "[Saturday's win] doesn't wrap up everything."

* For more on this game, check out the video highlights.

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