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OSU missing 1 piece

Listening to Ohio State coach John Cooper talk about his third-ranked Buckeyes makes you wonder why they haven't won a national championship lately.

The offense averaged 505 yards and won 10 games this season by at least two touchdowns. The defense led the NCAA in four major categories at one point.

When Cooper talks to high school recruits, he is quick to point out the Buckeyes have produced a first-round draft pick at every position except quarterback, and that in the past four years they have won all but one major-college award _ from Heisman to Lombardi, from Butkus to Thorpe.

"Most schools don't have one award, and we about have them all," he says.

Except the one that matters the most. For the third time in four years, the Buckeyes' bid for a perfect season has been ruined by teams from the state of Michigan _ twice by the hated Wolverines, and this season a shocking 28-24 loss at home to unranked Michigan State.

And once again, the Buckeyes go into New Year's Day with little hope of winning their fourth national championship but first since 1968.

The only chance they have _ and it isn't much of one _ is to demolish No. 8 Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on tonight, have second-ranked Florida State win ugly over undefeated Tennessee, then hope the Associated Press voters make them No. 1.

So why aren't there more national titles?

"That's what we're trying to do," Cooper said. "We've come close the last two or three years. We've won a lot of football games, but we haven't won a national championship."

Cooper notes that Michigan last season became the first Big Ten team to win a national championship since 1968, and offered a myriad of reasons.

Among them:

The Big Ten is at a disadvantage because it is usually the visiting team coming out of the Midwest to a bowl game in California or the South.

A lot of those first-round draft picks he mentioned, such as Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs and Terry Glenn, leave after their junior seasons.

Also, the Buckeyes' bowl record has been short of sterling. They are 2-7 under Cooper, and it is particularly poor in the years they beat Michigan. The last time Ohio State beat Michigan and then won a bowl game was in 1982; the last time it beat the Wolverines and won a New Year's Day bowl was in 1968.

"A lot of times, the Michigan game is like a big ballgame," Cooper said. "We're more excited about the Michigan game than we are a bowl game."

Cooper isn't ruling out the improbable, and he certainly has the tools to give the Aggies (11-2) all they can handle in the Sugar Bowl.

Joe Germaine threw for more than 3,000 yards, Michael Wiley rushed for more than 1,000 and David Boston broke his school record with 74 catches for 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The defense is led by middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, whose production slipped this season because Cooper said he had so much support around him _ outside linebackers Jerry Rudzinski and Na'il Diggs, Thorpe Award winner Antoine Winfield and Ahmen Plummer in the secondary.

The Buckeyes gave up only 12 touchdowns all season and only 40 points after halftime. Of course, 19 of those second-half points came in the loss at Michigan State.

"The only time I think of that is when I see an advertisement about Tennessee or the Fiesta Bowl," Plummer said.

Coach R. C. Slocum sees trouble while trying to figure out how the Aggies can pull off their third upset of the season.

"Michigan State hit some big plays and Ohio State didn't hit some," Slocum said of the Buckeyes blemish. "It looked like a game some people have over the course of the year. Florida State had one against North Carolina State, Tennessee dodged a bullet against Florida and did the same against Arkansas. You can make every argument this team is as fine a team as any in college football this year," Slocum said. "The numbers back that up."

If only the national championships were there to back it up, too.


WHO: Texas A&M (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1).

LINE: Ohio State by 12{.

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