Buckeyes Will Play In Outback Bowl Again

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - For the second consecutive year, Ohio State will play in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Ohio State said on Monday that it accepted an invitation to play in the game in Tampa, Fla., where the Buckeyes lost to South Carolina 24-7 last season. The opponent has not been determined, but it will be a team from the Southeastern Conference, athletic director Andy Geiger said.

"We like to play on New Year's Day," Geiger said. "We're delighted."

"Our players have worked hard this year to overcome significant adversity and put themselves in position for this wonderful opportunity," coach Jim Tressel said.

Several players said on Monday that they looked forward to redeeming themselves after their poor performance last year.

The day after the game, former coach John Cooper was fired, and in the weeks leading up to the game, teammates criticized each other, the team MVP showed up late and missed the team's first practice in Tampa and one offensive lineman sued another.

"As far as all those off-the-field issues, that's something that can be corrected," said linebacker and defensive captain Joe Cooper. "I'm positive that will not go on this year."

"It was embarrassing," defensive tackle Mike Collins said of the game. "We kind of want to redeem ourselves. We want to show we're a legitimate team this year."

Tressel said last year's performance could be a motivating factor for some players.

"A lot of the guys I talked to when I got here in January were unhappy with the way they played in the Outback Bowl in January," he said.

No. 23 Ohio State (7-4, 5-3) earned a shot at the Outback Bowl after beating Michigan 26-20 on Saturday to finish third in the Big Ten behind the Wolverines (8-3, 6-2).

Michigan said on Monday that it will play in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1. No. 8 Illinois (10-1, 7-1) won the Big Ten championship and the conference's Bowl Championship Series berth.

Under the Big Ten's bowl agreements, the Citrus Bowl gets to choose first, followed by the Outback and then the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

Geiger said likely opponents include Tennessee, Georgia, LSU or Auburn.

The SEC has a full schedule Saturday, including a Top 10 showdown of Tennessee at Florida. After that, the SEC title game will be played and an opponent for Ohio State probably won't be determined until then.

Regardless of who Ohio State plays, Tressel said many SEC teams have several things in common.

"I know the SEC plays great football," Tressel said. "They have great speed."

This will be the 33rd bowl appearance for Ohio State and 12th since 1989. The Buckeyes are 14-18 in bowl games.

Geiger said the victory against Michigan was huge and shows the Buckeyes are headed in the right direction under their first-year coach.

"It was a terrific effort," he said, especially given that Craig Krenzel was making his first start at quarterback in place of Steve Bellisari.

Bellisari was on the sideline but didn't play in Saturday's game. He was arrested and charged with drunken driving on Nov. 16 and suspended for the game the next day against Illinois. He was reinstated to the team on Nov. 19.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)