SvoNotes: It's Put Up Or Shut Up Time

It's not Ohio State's fault, but the Buckeyes football program could get only one shot at a signature win this season, and it comes Saturday night in East Lansing. BSB's Jeff Svoboda says it's time for the Buckeyes to take advantage or they'll have to keep listening to the questions.

Whether Urban Meyer is 32-3 or 31-4 at Ohio State come Sunday morning, I won’t think the head coach’s tenure as a Buckeye has been the least bit disappointing.

But with a loss at No. 8 Michigan State in the de facto Big Ten East Division title game Saturday, some people will.

And they’ll have some ammo.

As my colleague Ryan Ginn has pointed out, with a loss, Ohio State will see every achievement it held onto through the first two-thirds of the Meyer era undone in a span of 11 games.

The 24-0 start? Over after last year’s Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State. The unbeaten regular-season record? By the wayside in Ohio Stadium earlier this year vs. Virginia Tech.

The Buckeyes still hold on to a lot, though. With a win, the team will claim on its own the Big Ten record for consecutive regular-season wins at 21. It will stay in the thick of the race for the national championship and can essentially book hotel reservations in downtown Indianapolis for the league title game in December.

But with a loss? There won’t be anything else left to hold on to. Any thoughts of a first Big Ten title under Meyer, barring a collapse that includes two losses in the final three games by Michigan State, will be gone. The only remnants of the impressive opening start under Meyer and his staff will be two Big Ten Leaders Division title rings. A coach who came in with national championship credentials will go three years without even a conference crown.

That’s not necessarily Meyer’s fault. The Buckeyes probably would have won the Big Ten title in 2012 had they been eligible to play in the title game against Nebraska, but they weren’t. This year, because of an injury to a senior, Ohio State is taking a redshirt freshman quarterback (a poised, talented one but a redshirt freshman nonetheless) to a rocking road venue for its biggest game of the year, which wasn’t the plan.

It’s also not really Meyer’s fault he doesn’t have a signature win at Ohio State. The schedules – both the nonconference ones, made years in advance, and a struggling Big Ten slate – simply haven’t provided many chances.

So far, Meyer is 5-0 against teams ranked between 11 and 25 in the nation when they took the field against the Buckeyes. He’s 0-2 against the top 10. That’s two chances in 34 games; heck, Ole Miss and Auburn have each played two top-five teams since October started.

No wonder there’s talk about the Buckeyes needing a signature win. They’ve had two chances at one since Meyer took over, led both of those in the fourth quarter and lost each in heartbreaking fashion.

“I think we've beaten a bunch of very good teams,” Meyer said Monday. “But I think that will be a conversation I have with our players. I think they know that … this is a game to get the respect that Ohio State deserves and has had in the past. You have to go compete and win this game and it's going to be a task. But that's real.”

It is real. The Big Ten has been open to criticism both near and far. Throughout the 2000s, Ohio State was first the knight in shining armor for a conference whose reputation was in decline and then the major face of that slide after back-to-back national title game losses.

The Meyer era won’t be a failure or anything close to those lines if the Buckeyes lose Saturday. The program, with a ton of youth playing a major role on a very good team and another excellent recruiting class set to roll in next year, is on an upward trajectory, especially considering the team before Meyer took over was a mere 6-7. No matter the result this weekend, the turnaround has been nothing short of impressive.

But a loss on Saturday and the Buckeyes won’t have another chance to “get the respect Ohio State deserves” this season. This is the only opportunity to make a statement, to show this program is ready in year three to hold its usual spot in the Big Ten and national rankings.

It’s time to make it count.

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