Buckeyes bloom in desert

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Jim Tressel wasn’t looking for any advantage. He’s just comfortable in these parts.

“Why not come out to paradise a little bit earlier?” the Ohio State coach asked.

No. 1 Ohio State arrived in Arizona four days early for its national championship showdown with No. 2 Florida. Not that the Buckeyes – playing in Arizona for the fourth time in five years – shouldn’t already feel at home.

Officials for the Bowl Championship Series title game required teams on site Tuesday, but Ohio State chose to fly out sooner. Tressel thought it made little sense to come back from a holiday break, reconvene in Columbus and then travel to Arizona.

Team members were not required to fly together. They were given travel money and could make their own arrangements, flying from their hometowns to save money and make the trip easier.

The Buckeyes worked out at Desert Mountain High School and stayed at the Radisson Fort McDowell Resort & Casino, located on lands of the Yavapai Nation. Players were told the casino was off-limits.

, sports information director Steve Snapp said.

The team practiced Saturday at Desert Mountain, twice Sunday and once New Year’s Day before getting Tuesday off to check into another hotel for the next week. Practice resumes Wednesday at Pinnacle High School. Ohio State is 3-0 when practicing at Pinnacle.

“We know the area; we know where we’re going to stay. … We’re just very, very fortunate to be in this situation,” quarterback Troy Smith said.

In Tressel’s first year as Ohio State coach, he extended practice time to prepare for the Outback Bowl against South Carolina on Jan. 1, 2002. The Buckeyes lost 31-28, Tressel’s only bowl loss in five tries.

This year’s practice schedule was built around freeing players to spend Christmas with their families. The last practice in Columbus before the holiday was Dec. 23. Players were off until the team met again in Arizona on Friday.

Arizona has been good to Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat No. 1 Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl in double overtime to win their first national championship in 34 years. They beat Kansas State 35-28 in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. After playing the following year at the Alamo Bowl, they defeated Notre Dame 34-20 on Jan. 2, 2006, in the Fiesta Bowl.

Getting back to the Valley of the Sun was like a homecoming.

“It’s been a great few days for us,” Tressel said.

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