The unbeaten Buckeyes have navigated a cross-country road game, a quarterback injury and some shaky Big Ten starts to keep head coach Urban Meyer's perfect record with OSU intact. In fact, the Buckeyes are undoubtedly playing their best football of the season, coming off a 63-14 victory against Penn State and a 56-0 whitewashing of Purdue.
Those wins, especially in the wake of an unsightly 34-24 win against Iowa, caused Meyer to compare his squad to his 2006 BCS National Championship squad at Florida. That year, the Gators handled Ohio State in the title game to hoist the first of two crystal balls during Meyer's tenure in Gainesville.
That Florida team was also ranked No. 4 in the BCS, and in fact held that spot until the waning moments of the regular season. In a matchup of the top 2 teams on Nov. 18, Ohio State beat Michigan, 42-39. USC eventually claimed the No. 2 spot but relinquished it with a 13-9 loss to unranked UCLA on Dec. 2, allowing Florida to jump from fourth to second.
Seven years later, Meyer's Ohio State team can make a similar jump in the standings this weekend – without even setting foot on the field. With three undefeated teams ahead of the Buckeyes and a fourth in pursuit, it is widely acknowledged that Ohio State needs help to reach the BCS National Championship. That may come as soon as tonight, when BCS No. 3 Oregon visits No. 5 Stanford and No. 6 Baylor hosts No. 10 Oklahoma. Additionally, two-time defending champion and top-ranked Alabama hosts No. 13 LSU on Saturday.
"I've been there before a couple times where some things had to happen right," Meyer said. "For us the waste energy on that, it's not fair to the players we coach. I'll certainly be watching. I'll be watching more with an interest… I love to watch other teams, especially that have similar philosophies offensively to what we do."
The second-year head coach expressed a special interest in Baylor, a team he said he has not seen yet this year. The Bears average 718.4 yards per game and 63.9 points per contest. They've reached the 70-point plateau three times in seven games, also scoring 69 and 59, respectively. The chance for Meyer to watch the programs he's chasing will also let him know where his team stands.
"I'll probably know more after I watch them this week," he said. "I haven't seen everybody. I've coached some really good teams. Are we a really good team? I can't compare us to the other three or four teams because I just haven't seen them."
Meyer will have plenty of company in his program among the viewing audience for Thursday and Saturday's games. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller didn't hesitate when asked if he'd be watching Oregon face off against Stanford.
"Two good teams going at it on Thursday night," he said. "It's going to be primetime, so I'm sure everybody will be watching."
You can also count senior center Corey Linsley among the interested parties. Linsley spoke at length about researching the BCS formula and what goes into the rankings, but he also offered a brunt assessment of where the Buckeyes stand.
"It's a four-horse race right now, and we have to do everything in our power to not let someone from behind jump us," he said. "We're absolutely interested in it, because it's no longer a case of us just playing our best. We also have to have someone else not play their best. I'm very interested in the games Thursday."
Meyer said it would be a disservice to his players to succumb to the distraction of rooting for outcomes, but the Buckeyes made no bones about what they'd be hoping for tonight.
"I would be lying if I said I wouldn't be pulling for (the underdogs)," junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "Yeah, I'll be pulling for them."
For athletes who get most of their exposure to college football from the film room, the rare chance to watch a game at home provides a unique opportunity to relax. In most cases, though, players said it's not easy to switch into fan mode.
"I always try to look at defensive linemen and see what they're doing when they're successful or when they're not doing something," junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "Like, if they didn't read a screen, I try to see what the offensive linemen did to not give it away. But other than that, you just try to enjoy college football when you get a chance."
Technology and company also have a hand in determining viewing experience. Shazier, who joked about being able to analyze and rewind games with wings and chips in hand, said DVR made it easier for him to scout potential foes. Watching with friends, however, puts an end to any impromptu film sessions.
"I'll just rewind stuff and say, ‘Why would you do that?' or, ‘He should fit better somewhere right there.' Sometimes I can (watch like a fan)," he said. "When I'm by myself, it's hard to do it, but when I'm with other people I'm content to just watch it like everybody else."
Count Shazier among those who believe the Buckeyes will receive the invitation they so desperately covet. Whether it happens tonight, Saturday or on the final day of the regular season, the stalwart linebacker said the stars will ultimately align for the scarlet and gray this year.
"I really have it in my gut feeling," he said. "Everybody is doing a great job, everybody's taking care of business. I feel like at the end of the day, everything is going to play out."