Fast Big Ten Start Leads To Outlook Change

The Ohio State football team was happy to advance to 4-0 after its nonconference slate, but the perfect record didn't assure onlookers that the Buckeyes were headed to a prosperous season. After the team won its first two Big Ten games – wins at Michigan State and home against Nebraska – the outlook for Ohio State's season has changed dramatically.

Ohio State's perfect record through four nonconference games looked like nothing more than the temporary concealment of the truth. That would be accurate if there was meaning behind the aesthetics of those victories, all of which lacked the glamour most expected from an Urban Meyer-led team.

The Buckeyes did stumble through games against inferior opponents looking for nothing more than a lucrative paycheck from the home team. Meyer's spread offense went quarters without big plays, and Ohio State's defense allowed teams with far less talent to sometimes move the football with relative ease.

What did that all mean? Those who haven't put last season completely in the past were waiting for history to quickly repeat itself. With Michigan State and Nebraska eager to welcome Meyer to the conference as OSU's first two Big Ten foes, the expectation was that Ohio State's true colors were soon to be revealed.

The Buckeyes' true colors may now show, but the discovered shades are the hue of successful Buckeye teams of the past, not of the squad that struggled to a 6-7 season last year after a tumultuous yearlong period of NCAA scandal yielded palpable effects.

"Obviously the mission isn't complete and we're not where we could be or at the level in which Coach Meyer would like us to be playing," junior center Corey Linsley said. "But I do feel we're on the course. We're definitely on the course."

With perhaps two of the toughest Big Ten opponents in the rearview, Ohio State remains unscathed. Now with a 6-0 record fresh off the 63-38 thrashing of Nebraska in a night game in Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes checked in at No. 8 in the latest Associated Press poll. It's the first time OSU has reached the top 10 under Meyer.

It wasn't supposed to happen this soon. When initially evaluating the team in January, Meyer saw a lot of things that didn't add up to an offensive juggernaut – namely a converted tight end playing right tackle, a youthful quarterback and wide receivers who had little-to-no experience making big plays.

The defensive evaluations likely went better for Meyer because the Buckeyes boast a deep and talented defensive line, but inexperience at linebacker kept uncertainty close to home. In all, Meyer saw a talented team with too many flaws to count.

"I'm very pleased with where we're at," Meyer admitted after the Nebraska game, "but I've also been doing this long enough to realize you have a bad week, you have a bad night tonight, you have a bad something, I don't want to be the downer, but we're not there. We have a long way to go."

Meyer knows his team is at risk every week in the Big Ten – starting this weekend in a night contest at Indiana – even if Ohio State's next four opponents will all be classified as considerable underdogs.

That's why the head coach said he'll speak to his team about comments made after the win over the Cornhuskers that asserted the Buckeyes are now playing for the AP national championship, the team's lone national potential given the program's one-year postseason ban.

Perhaps with a few more victories, the head coach will feel more comfortable revisiting the topic. Meyer wasn't shy to address the Buckeyes' latest ranking in the AP poll.

"You come to Ohio State, and that's why we're all here," Meyer said. "You should have those discussions in the middle of October.

"The thing is, they're going to talk about it when they go home, when they walk to class. They're going to talk about it. Why not have here's really where we're at. We'll have a conversation about that once it starts. We don't talk about it in September. But once it gets going, absolutely, we'll talk about it."

With two enormous conference roadblocks successfully cleared, the bigger picture for Ohio State's season is starting to come into focus. Talks of prosperous endings have replaced the uncertainty that consumed a team still hoping to move on from a very troubled recent past.

There's no telling what topics will be relevant a month from now, but the potential for serious national consideration is there. Maybe that puts OSU ahead of schedule as it follows Meyer in his first year, but don't expect looking ahead to start now.

"We're excited about the future," senior defensive back Zach Domicone said, "but we have to get through today successfully before what is ahead for us is relevant."

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