COLUMBUS - Now that the 1997 football season is over at Ohio State, the speculation about what the team will do this fall already is starting. Though they lost 31-14 to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday, there appears to be plenty of reason for the Buckeyes to be optimistic. They expect to lose only five of their 22 starters next season. And for the first time since 1991, no players are expected to leave early. Among those who will be back is Andy Katzenmoyer, who won the Butkus Award this season as the nation's best linebacker. Ohio State (10-3) dropped from ninth to 12th in the final Associated Press poll after being beaten by the Seminoles (11-1), who moved up one spot to third. "I think people are excited for next year because they saw a team that wasn't expected to do much this year do something much more than people ever thought," sophomore fullback Matt Keller said about the Buckeyes. "Yeah, we were out of the national championship picture this year," sophomore left guard Rob Murphy said. "But next year, we think we'll be in the top three or four." Murphy was referring to the preseason poll, but poll voters will have to look more at the team's potential than at its performance against Florida State. They also will have to overcome what Murphy believes is a bias against Ohio State. "It's kind of like a running joke with the players and the coaches, 'No one likes Ohio State,"' he said. "We're not anyone's friends out there, it seems like." The Buckeyes are 51-11-1 in the last five years, but are 3-15-1 in bowl games and against Michigan in John Cooper's 10 years as their coach. "I think right now we're a very good team the last four or five years," Murphy said. "We're right on the breaking point of being one the elite teams." Cooper said it is going to take work for the Buckeyes to be a top team next season. "We've got a lot of work that needs to be done if we're going to have the kind of football team we hope to have," he said. "It isn't just going to happen. We've got to make it happen." He said losing a bowl game can be tougher than losing a regular-season game. "We have the offseason program, winter conditioning program, spring practice, recruiting and all that kind of stuff," he said. "We don't have a chance to go out and win another football game."