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January 3, 2008
Steltz hopes to follow in family footsteps
» MORE: Beanie's Buckeyes face stingy LSU defense
NEW ORLEANS – Little brothers always want to do what their big brothers do. LSU strong safety Craig Steltz is no different, although his aspirations are more grandiose than most.
Four years ago, Steltz, watched older brother Kevin - a starting fullback - help LSU win a national title in a 21-14 victory over Oklahoma in the Superdome.
"I never thought four years ago, when I was watching my brother play, that I'd have the opportunity to be back in New Orleans and be playing for the national title as he did," Craig said. "He's more excited than anyone."
Steltz, who is from the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, has had a tremendous season - far better than his brother ever had. In his first season as a full-time starter, the guy teammates call "Surfer Boy" was a Thorpe Award finalist and a first team All-American by several outlets - including Rivals.com. He had 97 tackles, six interceptions and forced three fumbles.
"Coming into the year, everybody talked like we lost both our safeties … but Craig's been a starter on our defense since I've been here," LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "We've used him in a lot of different roles, and we play a lot of sub packages, and he's been a featured player.
"So he's been an integral part of what we've done on defense for a long time. So what he's done hasn't surprised me, and there isn't another safety in the country I'd take over him."
Compliments and praise are nice, but championship rings are better. Just getting to the championship game after enduring two losses is good. There is one drawback to playing for the championship in the Superdome, though: A lot of family and friends want tickets.
"Everybody wants a ticket because they're close by," Steltz said. "But we only get so many tickets, and it's only two more than we get during the regular season."
Pelini, who will take over as Nebraska's coach after Monday's game, maintains that his impending job change hasn't affected preparation for the championship game.
"I've been concentrating," Pelini said. "I had a couple weeks there where I went and recruited (for Nebraska). And since I've been back, I've been about 99 percent LSU. … I'm committed to these guys. I'm committed to winning a football game. And we're looking forward to the opportunity. These opportunities don't roll around very often. And, believe me, I've never done anything half-in in my life, and I didn't start on this trip."
Tigers linebacker Ali Highsmith supported that.
"He's still out there the same way he was before he even got the head-coaching job," Highsmith said. "So you can't really even tell."
Ohio State coaches distributed to Buckeyes players a DVD that featured a 10-minute compilation of national college football analysts criticizing them throughout the season.
Obviously, the point was to raise the players' ire. It seemed to have that effect.
"I watched the DVD with my grandma and she was going off at the TV," offensive tackle Alex Boone said. "I mean, 10 minutes of straight bashing us. I didn't really take it to heart. My grandma is folding clothes and going nuts. I got to remind her she's a little older, calm down.
"Obviously, you watch films like that and you realize just how much everybody hates you. But at the end, who cares?"
You mean besides grandma? Well, perhaps wide receiver Brian Hartline.
"I was sitting there looking at it, listening to it and I'm thinking, 'OK, so if we win, how many of these guys are going to actually accept it and actually apologize or admit they were wrong?' " he said. "And I would say probably the majority of them never would.
"But if we lose, there's going to be a lot of big-headed people out there that think they're geniuses or there's going to be a lot of liars. So I couldn't really decide which one to go with. What catches my mind is how everyone acknowledges how much of a crazy season it's been. But they can't acknowledge that we have a chance to win. I don't understand it. Because Pitt can beat West Virginia and West Virginia can destroy Oklahoma, but we can't have a chance to beat LSU?"
Senior defensive end Kirsten Pittman was a member of LSU's 2003 championship team which defeated Oklahoma. He has offered sage advice for his teammates for this year's championship game.
"I told the guys you have to grasp the moment and take advantage of the opportunity because a lot of people really don't get the opportunity to play in the national championship game," Pittman said. "I've been fortunate enough that this is my second go-around. And I just told the young guys, you know, you have to prepare better. You have to practice better.
"Everything you do has to be better for the national championship game because it is not just a bowl game. It is the game. It's the big dance. Just take advantage of it and go out and practice like you're going to play."
The younger guys say they've listened.
"I've been asking a lot of questions," All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey said. "Before we got down here, I asked him what type of environment we were getting to into. I talked to him about all the distractions and all this.
"He said there's going to be a lot of distractions, but just stay focused and know you're on a business trip. You're down here for a reason, not to have fun and be distracted. You're down here to achieve your goal."
Pittman was a freshman in 2003, but did not play in 2005 or 2006 because of injuries.
Apparently, Ohio State could have used Pittman's advice last year in Arizona. Several Buckeyes players said they weren't as intense as they needed to be, and that might have contributed to their 41-14 loss to Florida.
"Last year we were out there a while and it was more like a vacation," Ohio State tailback Chris Wells said. "This year everybody's taking it more like a business trip, like we're down here for a purpose."
Last season, the Buckeyes arrived in Phoenix the day after Christmas. They didn't arrive in New Orleans until Wednesday.
"We've definitely changed it up, and we're pretty excited," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. "Last year we were kind of lackadaisical, and this year there's more urgency."
There's been a lot of talk about how Florida overwhelmed Ohio State in last season's championship game. Additionally, the Buckeyes are 0-8 against SEC teams in bowls dating to the 1978 Sugar Bowl.
But even if that is a hot topic of conversation, the Buckeyes insist they are not paying attention.
"That's not something we've talked about," wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. "I think this team is completely different than any of those other eight teams. And I think that those past games, whatever the record may be … it has no influence on this season and this game that's going to be played.
"We know that what happens on Monday is going to be a result of what we've done this past year and what we've been doing over the course of the past month and for the next couple of days."
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.