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Buckeyes prepare for road, Big Ten

RUSTY MILLER
AP College Football Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The worst road trip Devin Barclay ever went on was to, of all places, Rome.

By comparison, he doesn’t expect second-ranked Ohio State’s visit to scenic Champaign, Ill., on Saturday to be nearly as bad.

Barclay, the Buckeyes’ 27-year-old kicker, used to be a world-class soccer player. He once traveled with the U.S. Under-23 team to play in the Eternal City. Historical and romantic though it may be for visitors, Rome became a nightmare for a visiting team.

“The Italians knew where our hotel was,” he said with a grin. “And all night they were beeping horns. All night long.”

Needless to say, the sleep-deprived Americans lost that game.

Another top tourist destination, Los Angeles, was hardly a dream stop for Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey.

After Southern California administered a thorough 35-3 humiliation to the Buckeyes two years ago, Posey never forgot the eerie flight home.

“That was such a long, silent plane ride back,” he said.

This road trip is different from both of those. The Buckeyes (4-0) of Barclay and Posey are a three-touchdown favorite in the Big Ten opener at Illinois.

“This is going to be a good test for us: First road game, first Big Ten game,” defensive lineman John Simon said.

Along with retaining their perfect record and remaining in the national title hunt, Ohio State is also motivated by a sixth straight Big Ten title. They’ve captured all or a piece of the last five, and can match the record set by Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes of 1972-77.

“It’s a special thing,” center Mike Brewster said before the season even got under way. “Everyone’s going to be out to get us this year because no one wants to see us win another Big Ten championship. But we’re going to work as hard as we can and try to win another one.”

Coach Jim Tressel realizes the first road game and the opening of conference play means a return to the physical play that has become a conference hallmark.

“We’re going into the Big Ten season now,” he said. “A lot of bruises (are) getting ready to be handed out.”

This will be the final time that the 11-team Big Ten plays under the configuration adopted when Penn State joined the league in 1993. With Nebraska coming aboard next year, the league will split into two divisions and will play a conference championship game.

Tressel said he wasn’t going to get emotional about the end of an era.

“I’m not that nostalgic a guy because whatever the schedule is next year, that’s what I’ll enjoy,” he said.

There are two big reasons why the Buckeyes say they’re fully focused on the Illini.

First, Illinois traditionally has fought on even terms with Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t lost in Memorial Stadium since 1991, but over the last 20 meetings dating to 1988, Ohio State has only a narrow 11-9 upperhand in the series.

Second, the Buckeyes faced a similar game almost a year ago at 13-point underdog Purdue. Despite being ranked seventh in the country, and Purdue having won just one of its first six games, the Boilermakers beat the Buckeyes 26-18.

It’s a defeat that still burns.

“We took Purdue lightly,” Posey said. “We thought we’d just go out there and have our way. In the Big Ten, that’s one thing this group learned, that it’s not that way. We have a lot of guys back from that team, so we understand that whatever we did before that game it can’t be done again because you get whipped that way. And we don’t want that to happen.”

There’s no need for the coaching staff to make any comparisons.

“We won’t talk about Purdue,” Tressel said. “You would hope those who boarded the bus and headed to the airport for that game would still have the understanding very deep in their soul that you better be prepared when you’re on the road.”

It’s a lesson that Barclay learned years ago in Italy.

The trip in, the hotel, the unfamiliar locker room and the unfriendly stadium all conspire against a team.

“All of those things are all going to play into it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of going in knowing that things might be a little different in preparation but when we get on the field, it’s going to be the same.”