So what do you do when that dream appears to have been shattered?
It is the question facing the Buckeyes this week as they prepare for Purdue after having suffered their first loss of the season last weekend at Wisconsin. Now sitting at 6-1 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play, the team's two primary goals for the season – win the Big Ten and play for the national championship – can not be achieved without outside hope.
That means a refocusing of goals for now.
"I think it still can be a special year," senior wide receiver and captain Dane Sanzenbacher said. "I think we made no secret that at the beginning of every year our goal is to go to the national championship. It's become bad ju-ju to talk about, but we know that's where we want to be. Everybody knows that's where we want to be and I'm sure there are other teams in the country that would admit that they want to win every game and go to the national championship."
Both immediately after the loss and then during his Tuesday press conference, OSU head coach Jim Tressel said his focus would be on the next practice rather than how his team could claw its way back into the title race.
"We're not thinking about what we're going to do the next five games," he said Saturday night. "We're going to go back to work tomorrow and see if we can go undefeated on Tuesday's practice and see if we can go undefeated on Wednesday's practice. That's the way we approach things."
Through the first six weeks of the season, the Buckeyes to a man spoke of how they knew an undefeated season would have to be in the cards in order for them to earn a spot in the title game.
That mantra was repeated on a weekly basis. Following the team's 43-7 victory against Ohio in week three, junior center Michael Brewster said the team knew its capabilities and its chances of playing for the national championship.
The message was clear then, that the Buckeyes could not afford a slip-up. The belief was that if they controlled the things they could control, things would work out in their favor.
"We don't worry about what the other team is doing," he said. "We've got to take care of the ball and we've got to force them to turn over the ball and we've got to protect the quarterback. As long as we keep doing those things, I think we're going to be all right."
However, the Buckeyes obviously did not take care of business last weekend – but it was not a case of believing the hype and not the dream, they said.
"We knew we were going to have to come out and win all of our games," Sanzenbacher said after the game. "We weren't playing to protect the (No. 1) ranking. We try to go after teams. Obviously it didn't work out for us tonight but that wasn't a factor at all."
Tuesday, junior linebacker Andrew Sweat described the challenge of going undefeated.
"It is hard because you face adversity every week," he said. "Everyone, it's Ohio State so they want to beat you. You just have to overcome that stuff."
Sweat went on to point out that the Buckeyes are not necessarily out of the hunt for the national championship. During the 2007 season, OSU lost its next-to-last regular season game but still found its way to the title game. The 2009 title game featured a pair of one-loss teams, while the LSU team that beat the Buckeyes in the 2008 title game had two losses.
In other words, hope remains – just not the same hope that existed before the Buckeyes lost to the Badgers. If not for hope, what would be left to play for?
"We don't really have any other choice at this point," Sanzenbacher said. "We knew coming into this season that our goal was to win every game we played in. We like to be in a position where we control our own destiny, but at this point there's nothing else you can do but keep on moving forward.
"Instead of looking at the big picture, we've got to look at one game at a time."