COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -This wasn't the way the season was supposed to go for a rebuilding and inexperienced Ohio State team.
The Buckeyes were blessed with a weak early schedule, from which they hoped to glean some experience and get comfortable with their roles before moving on to Big Ten play.
Instead, a month into the season, the Buckeyes find themselves ranked No. 4 and a national championship contender.
``You know, we're a young team, but I would like to think that we're mature enough to think on Oct. 2 where you're ranked doesn't really have much credence,'' coach Jim Tressel said on Tuesday. ``Hopefully they'll stay focused on the task at hand as to what we need to get better at. And I think they will.''
Somebody in the USA Today coaches poll even tossed the Buckeyes a No. 1 vote.
``We've got a long way to go if we're going to be the best team in the nation,'' Tressel responded.
A major obstacle comes up Saturday, when the Buckeyes travel to play No. 23 Purdue, which like Ohio State is 5-0.
The Buckeyes are enjoying their rapid climb up in the polls. They were No. 11 in the preseason poll, then dropped a spot after struggling early against Youngstown State. They climbed two spots the next week, two more the next, and then, after sitting at No. 8 for two weeks, they took advantage of four of the top seven teams losing last week to move up four notches.
Linebacker Marcus Freeman said he and his teammates keep a close watch on the teams at the top of the polls and how they're doing each Saturday.
``Yeah, we all do,'' he said. ``USC, LSU, Cal - they're in front of us. You know that USC and Cal are going to play and any college football fan's going to want to see that game and see who wins and who loses. We know LSU has a big game this week with Florida. It's exciting to see who wins and who loses and see if you can move up or not.''
Last year, the Buckeyes were No. 1 from the preseason to the second week of January. After knocking off second-ranked Michigan in November, they had 51 days of hearing how unbeatable they were. Then they got thumped 41-14 by Florida in the BCS national championship game.
Maybe it's that ugly memory that has some Ohio State players trying to put a damper on the excitement of a fast start.
``We know that we have a lot more that we want to accomplish,'' wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. ``It feels pretty good to be recognized but we know that without taking care of this week, all of that is for nothing. We have to worry about Purdue and worry about going on the road this week.''
Then again, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and West Virginia all were trying to concentrate on the task at hand last week - and they still lost.
For now, the Buckeyes are pleased to have avoided the upset bug.
``We're happy being No. 4 but our goal is to be No. 1,'' Freeman said. ``Going out each week we know we're going to have to try to win every game.''

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