Craig Krenzel proved almost indestructible in leading the Buckeyes to the national championship as the team's starting quarterback.
McMullen, his backup, saw mop-up action in five games. He did complete an astounding 80 percent of his passes (25 of 31) for 315 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was clearly Krenzel's team as the Buckeyes rolled to a 14-0 mark and the national title. Now, as OSU prepares to open the 2003 season on Saturday against Washington at Ohio Stadium (8 p.m., ABC), McMullen is again standing at the ready.
"I have always got to be ready," said McMullen, a 1999 graduate of Granville High School. "The approach I take is I just stay loose when we're on offense and stay into the game. He could go down at any time. Last year, he took a couple of shots and I thought I was going to have to go in there."
McMullen said he was looking for his helmet late in the Fiesta Bowl after Krenzel took a vicious hit near the goal line in overtime.
"He took some real shots in the Fiesta Bowl," McMullen said. "There was one hit by Jonathan Vilma that was real tough. I thought I was going to have to go in there for a snap or two."
McMullen was a first-team All-Ohio quarterback and a record setter at Granville. He admits it has been hard to take a supporting role for the Buckeyes.
"It's tough," he said. "I am a competitor. Everyone wants to play. I have accepted my role and I just have to be ready if anything does happen to Craig.
"We have a good relationship. This is our fifth year here together. We've spent a lot of time together. We are both competitors."
McMullen and Krenzel arrived at OSU together in 1999. They each redshirted that season, then watched as Steve Bellisari started the next two seasons at quarterback.
But when Bellisari was suspended late in the 2001 season after a drunken driving arrest, McMullen got the call on just one day's notice to start the pivotal Big Ten showdown with Illinois. He completed 4 of 13 passes with a touchdown in that 34-22 loss.
But it was Krenzel, who came off the bench to rally the Buckeyes with two touchdown drives in the second half, that stole the show.
A week later, Krenzel started the Michigan game, a 26-20 OSU win in Ann Arbor. He has started every game since.
"I always think about that, but I can't really worry about it," McMullen said of his missed opportunity. "That's how life goes and that's how this game goes. Craig stepped in and did a good job."
The big story on campus this week is about another suspended player, star tailback Maurice Clarett.
"I think a lot of guys are sick of reading about it in the paper," McMullen said. "We just want to focus (on the game). You can't control what's going on.
"We have (backups) Maurice (Hall) and Lydell (Ross) back there. The coaches and players have a lot of confidence in what they can do."
With nine starters back on offense, McMullen believes the Buckeyes should be able to improve on their average of 29.3 points per game from a year ago.
"I think our offense is looking pretty good," McMullen said. "Early on, we had some guys banged up, but we handled it all well. It helps to have a lot of guys back from last year.
"I know the quarterbacks are excited about this group of receivers. We have just about everybody back from last year. It was great that Michael Jenkins decided to stay in school. We all know what kind of ability he has.
"Drew Carter is ready to have a really good senior year. Then we have guys like Bam Childress, Roy Hall and Santonio Holmes. They all had a good summer and a good camp."
Included in the offensive juggernaut are a pair of redshirt freshman quarterbacks, Troy Smith and Justin Zwick, who have impressed their teammates and coaches in practice.
"I think next year will be very interesting," McMullen said. "Both of those guys bring such different things to the table and into the battle. They push each other to improve every day.
"Craig and I are there to help teach them and answer any questions, almost like an extra coach. They switch up every day. Troy and Justin take turns working with the twos every day."
Smith and Zwick will have three seasons to battle over the starting job. For McMullen, his time as a Buckeye is winding down.
He was asked if he had any regrets.
"No, not at all," he said. "This was the place I always wanted to go. When you grow up in Columbus, it's any kid's dream to play at Ohio State. No, I don't have any regrets, especially after the way we won the national championship last year.
"I can look back and say I've given it my best shot."
He admitted he is tempted at times to look at other schools and think about what might have been.
"It's funny because (OSU defensive coordinator Mark) Dantonio recruited me to Michigan State," he said. "I was also looking at Pittsburgh, Boston College, West Virginia, some schools in the MAC and Florida State.
"I see some of those schools. Most of them don't have any of the quarterbacks who were in my grade."
For now, though, McMullen will man his post on the OSU sideline until his number is called.
"I feel like I'm pretty confident," he said. "I've been here five years, so I think I know what's going on."