COLUMBUS - Kirk Barton is the anti-Tressel.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel strolls the sideline, necktie in a perfect knot, not a hair out of place and with a personality to match.
Barton, on the other hand, is a boisterous, hard-living offensive tackle. He`s also one of the top-ranked Buckeyes` captains - a decision Tressel signed off on. The two couldn`t be more opposites.
"There`s no clash, but there`s a lot of difference," the senatorial Tressel said, comparing himself to his star offensive tackle. "The beauty of a team is that you have a million different personalities. If everyone was like me, we`d be in trouble. If everyone was like him -- we`d be in trouble."
Barton frequently gets in trouble by saying or doing the wrong thing. The history major makes his coach cringe almost every time he opens his mouth, yet he is one of the pistons that keeps Ohio State moving downfield.
The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) have had a dream season heading into Saturday`s home finale against Illinois (7-3, 4-2). So what do you suppose Barton says is the highlight of the season?
"You know my favorite thing about my senior year so far is when we enter the stadium before kickoff, they play â€˜The Sopranos` theme song," he said this week. "That is sooo awesome. Whoever did that should get a medal or something."
It was Barton who got in trouble a few years back when he said that a seldom-used quarterback should see more playing time. Some were appalled that he would second-guess the coaching staff. It didn`t matter that that quarterback was Troy Smith, and all he did when he did get more playing time was win the 2006 Heisman Trophy.
And after Smith led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten season a year ago, it was Barton who walked into the postgame interview room smoking a big, fat Cuban cigar, moments after cracking open a bottle of expensive champagne in the locker room.
Needless to say, such actions are frowned upon by the conservative, buttoned-down Tressel, who seldom shows his personality to those outside his inner circle.
No wonder that, after he had regaled reporters for 45 minutes Tuesday night, Barton wondered if he would be allowed to do any interviews next week before the Buckeyes play archrival Michigan.
"You guys have got to petition for me," he told reporters.
Barton is a 6-foot-6, 300-pound fifth-year senior who has started for four years. A native of the high school football hotbed of Massillon, he could have joined friends and offensive stars Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Antonio Pittman and given up his senior season to take a shot at the NFL Draft last spring. But he decided to stick around.
"I have a lot of friends who are in the NFL now and not many of them aren`t miserable, to be honest with you," he said. "I talk to a bunch of them every week and it`s tough up there. There`s a lot of pressure and you`re kind of a loner in a new city when you first get up there. It`s not the same as college. I wouldn`t trade my senior year for anything because it`s really been a great year."
In a year of upsets in college football, one of the biggest might have been that Tressel allowed Barton to be a team captain.
"Coach Tres is not going to drill me," Barton said of his occasional "discussions" with Tressel. "He didn`t throw me under the bus and try to discipline me. We just sat and talked. I really appreciated that. He kind of treated me like a man. He didn`t have to treat me like a little kid. I didn`t have bad intentions."
His teammates are drawn to him. His coaches are fond of him, even though he can test them.
"He`s a special guy," said assistant head coach and receivers assistant Darrell Hazell. "He`s got his own little idiosyncrasies that you`ve got to know him behind the locker room doors to figure out who he really is. If he has said some things that maybe were on the edge, it wasn`t to hurt the program or anyone else. He speaks his mind."
This year, for the most part, Barton has been on his best behavior. He has played very well (not-so-mobile quarterback Todd Boeckman has only been sacked 12 times in 10 games) and a rebuilt offense has been extremely productive (35 points and 415 yards a game).
Like many of the veterans, Barton is still stung by how badly they were beaten by Florida in last year`s 41-14 loss in the BCS national championship game.
Now, on the cusp of his final home game in an Ohio State uniform, he was asked if there is a game that sticks out from his career.
"I`ll tell you in two months," he said.
For a change, he didn`t have anything more to say.