Buckeyes have plenty to gain in bowl

NEW ORLEANS -- The Ohio State Buckeyes won't have any trouble getting motivated for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Pick a lane, and the Buckeyes are driven toward victory.

There's the incessant reminder of an 0-9 record against SEC teams in bowl games. Ohio State players are sick of hearing about it, especially those players who hail from SEC country.

Just how high would a win against Arkansas register for the southern Buckeyes?

"That would be even bigger than winning last year's Rose Bowl," said senior linebacker Brian Rolle, a native of Immokalee, Fla. "Just because it's an SEC and not faring so well. Having that win be [against] an SEC team makes it all the better. You hear about it so much. You hear people talk about the SEC being the most dominant conference, the best conference.

"Hopefully, we put a stop to that."

Rolle always hears the SEC chatter from his older brother, Willie, a die-hard Florida fan.

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who grew up near Atlanta, knows the feeling.

"I have a lot of friends who play for SEC teams," Heyward said. "To get this win would give me a little credibility."

Ohio State continues to search for credibility despite winning or sharing six consecutive Big Ten titles and appearing in six consecutive BCS bowl games. The Buckeyes enter the bowl at 11-1 and beat both of the Big Ten's bowl winners (Iowa and Illinois), but they lack a win against a current Top 25 team.

Arkansas' high-powered offense led by quarterback Ryan Mallett provides a good barometer for Ohio State's defense. The Silver Bullets rank in the top 10 nationally in just about every meaningful statistical category but got physically overwhelmed in a Oct. 16 loss to Wisconsin.

"We're salivating at this chance," Heyward said. "Everybody says there are a bunch of great defenses out here, but me personally, I think we have the best defense in the country, and we're going to get a chance to showcase it against one of the top offenses in the country."

Perhaps the strongest motivation for Ohio State is showing it can maintain its focus and play well despite the suspension saga involving quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others. The Buckeyes boast a large and decorated senior class that has had to keep the team together despite the distractions.

"We're a very close and together team, so to have some of our players gone really would have hurt us," Heyward said. "The team rallied around those guys, they were going through some tough spots.

"But now we're just focused on winning this game."