NEW ORLEANS -- You can't forget the fact the Buckeyes had all of Big Ten country's hopes and dreams of removing the dunce cap from the conference's head lumped into Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl.
You can't forget the fact that Ohio State was 0-9 against the Southeastern Conference all time in bowl games.
Yet the overriding fact that will hover over the Buckeyes' dramatic, thrilling and near-bungling 31-26 win over Arkansas, though, will be that Ohio State more than likely wouldn't have won without the heroics of five players -- quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, tackle Mike Adams and most importantly reserve defensive end Solomon Thomas.
Yes, those are the five players who will be suspended for the first five games of next season and were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl. That was never lost on any of the guilty parties despite the confetti parade and championship trophy hoist.
Pryor apologized to the Ohio State fans on the celebration platform after the Buckeyes' Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino literally carried him 25 yards to the trophy presentation. He stood there, not being able to place any weight on his right leg after injuring himself on the final drive, pleaded forgiveness and boasted his loyalty to next year's team.
Herron wasted no time doing the same on the field after the game.
"It was kind of like we had to come out here and get the win with everything we did," Herron said. "We're sorry for all the wrong things that we did. We want to say that we're sorry to the whole Buckeye nation. I hope they can forgive us, and we came out here and won it for them."
Their words couldn't earn forgiveness, but their play probably did.
Pryor appeared out of sorts at times, making some questionable throws and wheeling and dealing his way out of trouble with his athleticism. A snazzy 34-yard scamper nearly transformed into another Big Ten bowl game blunder as he fumbled the ball into the end zone. Luckily for the Buckeyes, Dane Sanzenbacher made a heady play to recover the loose ball line for a touchdown.
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But that's Pryor. A thrill here. A mental fart there. A brilliant play possible around every turn.
Pryor went 14 of 25 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team with 115 yards on the ground. But Pryor points to his lack of maturity on and off the field as an overriding decision to keep his vow.
"The main thing was that I didn't want [was] to let the seniors down," Pryor said. "That's a tight group and I didn't want to be so selfish and not come play for the guys. Another thing, I don't think I'm really ready for the NFL. I've got a lot of learning and better decision making on and off the field. Off the field I need to grow up a bit, and I want to mature as well. I just have a lot of growing up to do. We'll take steps. I'll talk to coach [Jim] Tressel and we've got a plan going down and follow it exactly how he put it."
Herron ran through gaping holes in the Arkansas defense for 87 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. He nearly became a goat twice over after fumbling on fourth-and-1 with 5:56 left in the game, giving Arkansas a short field.
Herron said he was "heartbroken" and "felt like the worst person in the world" after that fumble. "I'm actually a little disappointed in myself with that fumble, and I was kind of down on myself," Herron said. "But our defense played big and they got the win for us."
Adams helped make both the running and passing games effective as he kept Pryor clean from any sacks and helped open up running lanes.
Posey saved Pryor on a couple of passes. On an all-out sprint and dive, he saved an awkward pass midway through the third quarter to give Ohio State a first down. His most impressive catch of the night came when he readjusted his body to catch a 43-yard TD pass in the second.
A blocked punt with 1:09 remaining in the game nearly cemented the dunce cap on Ohio State's collective head as Arkansas' Ryan Mallett had 69 seconds to move 18 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
But Thomas, the most obscure of the suspended crew, picked off a bad Mallett pass with 57 seconds left to seal the win.
"We were all grateful to be able to play in this game," Thomas said. "We thank Buckeye nation and the coaching staff for giving us the opportunity."
No one let Ohio State's players and coaches off the hook (except the NCAA) all week for the past transgressions. The decision to allow those five players to play undoubtedly helped Ohio State. The decision undoubtedly helped the Sugar Bowl. Was it worth it? Everyone in Columbus, Ohio thinks so. Every other school (other than Arkansas) may not feel quite the same way.
As thrilling a victory as it was for Ohio State, the NCAA had a heavy hand in making it happen.