SPRING IS A TIME FOR UNABASHED OPTIMISM AND HIGH spirits. The drills are run under a pleasant sun, and the team isn't hampered by its place in the rankings or worried about which bowl game might lie ahead. The only event of note is a scrimmage, an exercise in spirit more than anything. In short, spring offers a fresh start. No team could use a fresh start more than the 2008 Buckeyes. So, beginning on March 27, the players strapped on their helmets, which will remain devoid of the trademark buckeye-leaf stickers until the fall, and got to work. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED followed the players and the coaches behind the scenes—from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to the practice fields, from the sweaty workouts to the serious classroom strategy sessions—as they laid the foundation for what should be another banner season.
All that work builds to one moment, the hotly anticipated spring game in Ohio Stadium. A 20-13 win by the men's lacrosse team over Denver served as the opening act. The crowd, which eventually reached 76,346, was in full throat despite the rain that started falling just before the football team took the field. The inclement weather continued through most of the first half, but spirits remained high as the Spring Quarter Athletic Band played Ohio State standards.
Even though the team's stars saw limited action, the game eased some of the pain of the past two championship near misses and brought promise for the coming season—and the Columbus faithful were eating it up. After all, 2008 could be the season for another Ohio State national championship. When the clock wound down, the countdown began: only 133 days until the first game.