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Buckeyes prepare for Sugar Bowl, Mallett, New Orleans

After finishing the regular season with a record of 11-1 and a share of its sixth straight Big Ten championship, the No. 6 Ohio State football team is preparing for its Sugar Bowl matchup with No. 8 Arkansas (10-2).

The Sugar Bowl will mark the first meeting between the two football programs.

“They’ve had great teams. They always will,” said OSU coach Jim Tressel during a press conference Tuesday. “They have a proud tradition for the state of Arkansas, just as proud as we do for the state of Ohio.”

Preparing for Mallett

Quarterback Ryan Mallett has anchored Arkansas’ pro-style offense. The junior has passed for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns.

“Ryan is a veteran guy,” Tressel said. “He’s got a lightning-quick release, spins the ball as well as anyone we’ve seen.”

Tresselsaid the Buckeyes are using backup quarterbacks Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham to simulate Mallett in practice.

The Sugar Bowl won’t be the Buckeyes’ first live look at Mallett. The Michigan transfer played a series in OSU’s game against the Wolverines in 2007 when Chad Henne went down with an injury. Mallett went 1-for-3 passing for eight yards and also took a sack.

“He’s one of those guys that you’ve definitely got to get after him,” said OSU linebacker Brian Rolle. “He’s a great, great, great competitor. We know that from when he was at Michigan.”

Mallett is widely projected to be a first-round pick should he declare for April’s NFL draft. The Buckeyes are 2-2 under Tressel when facing quarterbacks who went on to be drafted in the first round, with wins against Phillip Rivers in 2003 and Brady Quinn in 2005 and losses to Vince Young in 2005 and Mark Sanchez in 2008.

Attempting to prevent 0-10

The Buckeyes are aware of their 0-9 record in bowl games against the SEC. Three of those losses have come under Tressel: the 2002 Outback Bowl against South Carolina, and the 2007 and 2008 National Championship games against Florida and LSU, respectively.

Tressel said the Buckeyes’ lack of postseason success against the SEC has little to do with their matchup with Arkansas.

“The thing we’ve got to do, really focus in on, is what it’s going to take to play Arkansas, who we didn’t play in any bowl games in our history, and not get too caught up in irrelevant things,” Tressel said.

Beware of Bourbon Street

Although the Buckeyes have not played in the Sugar Bowl since 1999, seniors on this year’s OSU squad were members of the 2007 team that played in the title game in New Orleans.

The Buckeye seniors are aware of the importance of balancing fun with preparation when they go down to the “Big Easy.”

“It’s obviously a great opportunity to see the city and just, you know, enjoy the experience,” said OSU cornerback Devon Torrence. “But you’re also there to win the game, so you just have to find a balance, kind of neutral zone in between them. We definitely have fun out there, though.”

Legends and Leaders

On Tuesday, Tressel reacted to the Big Ten’s announcement of its new divisions’ names: Legends and Leaders.

“I don’t think we could do it geographically because it’s not a geographic division, so I honestly hadn’t given it much thought,” Tressel said. “Like we always say, tell us what time we’re playing and who we’re playing, and we’ll be ready to go.”

Juniors seeking NFL feedback

Tressel said that as many as five OSU underclassmen will be sending in paperwork to receive feedback from the NFL regarding where they likely would be selected if they entered the 2011 draft.

Tressel would not say who the players were but hinted that quarterback Terrelle Pryor was one of them.

“I just don’t feel like (revealing if Pryor was one of the five),” Tressel said with a smile. “I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to. How’s that?”

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