Ohio State clear-cut No. 1 in preseason AP poll

NEW YORK -- When Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr. and the rest of Ohio State's blazing Buckeyes were last seen on a big stage, they were whizzing around Sun Devil Stadium at warp speed.

That 34-20 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl made a lasting impression.

For the first time since 1998, Ohio State is preseason No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25.

"Around here, whether you're high in the polls or not, the expectations are still the same," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said in a telephone interview.

The Buckeyes received 35 of a possible 65 first-place votes from a panel of media members in the poll released Friday. Notre Dame was No. 2, the best preseason showing for the Fighting Irish since they were second in 1994.

"There wasn't a clear-cut No. 1, which I guess if you're a
college football fan you have to really like," said Jason
Franchuk, a poll voter from the Provo Daily Herald in Utah. "I
just remember watching the Fiesta Bowl and being really impressed
with that (Ohio State) team."

Texas will start the defense of its national title as the No. 3 team in the country. Auburn was fourth and West Virginia fifth.

Southern California, preseason No. 1 the past two years, was No. 6. Florida, LSU, California and Oklahoma rounded out the top 10.

"It's not a problem," USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett said when he
found out about the Trojans' ranking. "We're just going to take
that and roll with it."

No. 11 Florida State and No. 12 Miami will renew their rivalry on Labor Day night in the Orange Bowl.

No. 13 was Louisville, followed by Michigan, Georgia, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Penn State and Nebraska.

The final five were Oregon, TCU, Tennessee, Arizona State and Texas Tech.

Unlike the past two seasons, when Southern California started the season as an overwhelming No. 1, the Buckeyes received 54 percent of the first-place votes, and all the teams in the top six received at least three votes for No. 1. Notre Dame had 10 first-place votes, Texas eight, West Virginia six and Auburn and USC three.

"I think that anytime we're ranked No. 1, it puts a bull's-eye
on us," center Doug Datish said after practice Friday night. "But
on that same note, we're Ohio State and we always have the big
bull's-eye on us anyway."

Ohio State closed the 2005 season on a seven-game winning streak and was No. 4 in the final AP poll. The Buckeyes' two losses were to Texas and Penn State by a combined total of 10 points.

The emergence of Smith, a dual-threat quarterback whose junior season started with a suspension, gave the Buckeyes' a new identity.

In Ohio State's first five seasons under Tressel, defense had become the Buckeyes' forte, complemented by a play-it-safe offensive mentality. Tresselball won Ohio State a national title in 2002 with Maurice Clarett powering the offense on the ground.

With Smith running the show, Ohio State has a new MO.

These Buckeyes run a jet-powered spread-option offense, turning Smith loose the way Texas did Vince Young. During the seven-game winning streak, Ohio State averaged 38 points per game.

"There's no question we'd love to be explosive," Tressel said. "We have some kids who can do those type of things."

Smith passed for 2,282 yards, ran for 611 more and accounted for 27 touchdowns on the ground and through the air last season. He did all that despite sitting out the first game for taking money from a booster and then sharing the job for two games.

Smith solidified his status against Michigan and Notre Dame, throwing for 642 yards.

"I think he has done an excellent job battling through adversity, some of which he created and others were circumstances that had nothing to do with him," said Tressel, who's 50-13 with Ohio State. "Now the fun thing about Troy Smith is to find out how he'll handle success."

Smith has a couple of excellent running mates in Ginn and tailback Antonio Pittman.

Ginn, the super-fast receiver and return man who was a freshman star in 2004, was having a disappointing sophomore season until he burned Notre Dame for 167 yards on eight catches, including touchdowns of 56 and 68 yards.

Pittman had the second-best sophomore season of any running back in Ohio State history with 1,331 yards rushing -- only two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin did better -- capped by a game-clinching 60-yard yard touchdown sprint against the Fighting Irish.

The Buckeyes must replace seven defensive starters, including linebacker A.J. Hawk and two other first-round draft picks.

"You miss the maturity, the leadership and the game experience," Tressel said.

All the top teams seem to be missing something.

Notre Dame's 17 returning starters include its Heisman contender, quarterback Brady Quinn, but also most of the defense Ohio State torched.

Texas would have been a lock to enter the season No. 1 if Young hadn't left early for the NFL. Without him, the Longhorns are loaded but leaderless.

USC must replace Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and enough offensive talent to start an NFL expansion team.

Auburn's smallish defense was last seen being run over by burly Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

West Virginia proved it belonged among the nation's elite with a 38-35 win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. But how will last season's fabulous freshmen, quarterback Pat White and backfield mate Steve Slaton, respond to high expectations?

LSU and Cal have quarterback questions. Speaking of quarterbacks, how will Florida's Chris Leak do in Year 2 under Urban Meyer?

And how will Oklahoma hold up after its starting QB, Rhett Bomar, was kicked off the team for taking a no-show job?