September 3, 2002 at 8:29 PM EST - Updated July 10 at 7:56 PM
By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm would like nothing better than for the Buckeyes to creep into the season under cover of darkness.
It's clear, however, that the Buckeyes will not ambush anyone.
Off a 45-21 victory over Texas Tech two weeks ago in the Pigskin Classic, the Buckeyes have already climbed five spots to No. 8 in the nation. They moved up two spots last week without playing anyone other than each other in practice.
"You would love to be in the shadows for a long time, then get that big victory and sneak up on people," Wilhelm said.
As an example, he pointed to Colorado State. The Rams climbed from off the charts a week ago to 19th after a stunning 19-14 upset of No. 7 Colorado on Saturday.
Ohio State finds itself in a situation similar to that of the Buffaloes. The Buckeyes are heavily favored against in-state opponent Kent State on Saturday.
Wilhelm said one concern is that they are experiencing too much, too soon. Coming off an idle week, Ohio State has games on the next 12 Saturdays in the longest season in program history.
"It's game two," Wilhelm said. "It's only game two."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said players cannot afford to read too much into what's being said in magazines, newspapers, and on television and talk radio. Some have already tabbed the Buckeyes as a national championship contender.
"You're only one poor game away from not being discussed anymore," Tressel said. "I think our guys know that. What's important is how are they talking about you in December and January."
The pitfall is going into games expecting to win instead of proving how good you are, he said.
"There's always the chance that you take: 'Hey, we're wonderful,'" Tressel said. "Well, we worked hard and we focused and we played hard to perform well. If we'll keep doing that, I think we can perform well. But if we think it's going to be like a light switch, then no, that's a huge danger."
Just two years ago, Ohio State started the season ranked 16th and reeled off five wins by an average score of 33-11 to open the season. Then unranked Minnesota flipped the switch, beating the Buckeyes 29-17 in Ohio Stadium. That was followed by losses to Purdue, Michigan and South Carolina.
The Buckeyes finished the year unranked -- and head coach John Cooper was fired in the wake of the 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
"One thing that we have seen is as a group of seniors, we've been through everything," defensive tackle Kenny Peterson said. "We've been through ups and we've been through downs. We try to show the young guys, hey, don't take nothing for granted, don't get complacent."
Peterson said the message has been conveyed in the past 10 days.
"We had a great win over Texas Tech but that doesn't mean we're on top of the world, you know," he said. "Guys understand that we have to stay focused on the task at hand, not to overlook anybody. Obviously, we know a team can be beat at any time."
Wilhelm said the Buckeyes know firsthand how fast a bandwagon can go when everyone is jumping off.
"It's funny to laugh at the some of the polls and see how fast teams can move up or how fast they drop," he said. "It's basically how one game can impact your season."
Tressel said he had not discussed the Buckeyes' rapid rise in the polls, nor would he.
"We haven't stood in front our team and said, 'Hey, guys, we're No. 8 and maybe we don't deserve that.' Or that we do deserve that," he said. "We're focusing on getting better as a football team and as of yesterday we're focusing on Kent."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)