By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: Ohio State is No. 1 and some Buckeyes fans are probably feeling torn. Being No. 1: Is that good or bad?
On one hand, who wouldn't want their favorite team acclaimed as the best in the land? Then again, things haven't turned out so well recently when the Buckeyes were leaders of the pack.
"I love it for the Ohio State students and fans, but it's a big responsibility and opportunity for us," quarterback Terrelle Pryor said Sunday. "How we react to being No. 1, and how we stay determined in our focus and in our work habits, will tell us how long we will stay there."
The Buckeyes (6-0), ranked second all season to Alabama, took advantage of the Crimson Tide's 35-21 loss at South Carolina to ascend to the top spot in the latest Associated Press rankings released Sunday.
Coach Jim Tressel didn't put a whole lot of stock in being No. 1 with the season just half over.
"You take a look at the top 10 week to week and the precarious nature of any ranking is obvious," he said Sunday after the Buckeyes beat out Oregon and Boise State to take over the top spot. "Just review the change in the makeup of the Top 10 between the beginning of the season until now."
The Buckeyes have a lot of experience being No. 1. It's just that not all of those are experiences are positive ones.
A lot of fans were fed up seeing No. 1-ranked Ohio State teams in the national title games after the 2006 and 2007 seasons — and getting humiliated both times.
Being ranked high is nothing new at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have finished in the AP's top 10 every year since 2005 and seven of the last eight seasons. They have been made 91 consecutive appearances in the AP Top 25, the longest current streak in the nation.
The Buckeyes won AP titles in 1942, 1954, 1968 and in Tressel's second year on the job in 2002. That last team sidestepped a season of close calls while going 14-0, winning seven times by a touchdown or less. But that team wasn't No. 1 until the very end, capping a season of drama with a Miami 31-24 upset in double-overtime over top-ranked Miami.
The Buckeyes then spent all the 2006 regular season atop the AP poll. With Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith leading the way, they rolled through 12 opponents.
There were many who did not think Florida, which slipped through the year with a 12-1 record, could compete with the Buckeyes in the Bowl Championship Series title game in Glendale, Ariz. After Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, those assumptions seemed on the mark.
But Ginn was injured by a teammate during the ensuing end zone celebration and it was the unbeaten Buckeyes who didn't belong in the title game. Florida destroyed them, 41-14, with Smith and a star-studded offense of future NFL players amassing just 82 yards of total offense.
A year later, the Buckeyes were again No. 1 in the final regular season AP poll — but this time they needed lots of help.
Ranked No. 1 most of the season again, Ohio State plummeted to eighth in the BCS rankings after a stunning 28-21 loss at home to Illinois on Nov. 10. But all the teams in front of them lost in upsets or conference championship games and the Buckeyes found themselves atop the BCS poll heading into the bowl season.
The Jan. 7, 2008, BCS title game at the Louisiana Superdome was another debacle for Ohio State. Again the Buckeyes got off to a fast start, taking a 10-0 lead, before twice-beaten LSU ran off 38 of the next 45 points to coast to a 38-24 victory.
"It's a disappointment for our fans," Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline said after that loss. "Everyone has supported us and did a great job of traveling. I wish I could put them all in one room and apologize to them."
That final poll of the 2007 regular season was the last time Ohio State was No. 1 in the AP rankings.
Now they're back to try to prove that they can live up to that No. 1 status.
"The No. 1 ranking just means that, more than ever, we're in control of our own destiny," defensive end Cameron Heyward said.
Looming next is a huge game at No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday.
"The Buckeyes know what it's like to have a target on our back, especially since we are now well into Big Ten play," Tressel said. "We expect that every team will give us its best shot. How we respond will determine our ultimate ranking."