OSU (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) was sixth in the initial BCS rankings last week. Despite Virginia Tech's loss to West Virginia, OSU is still expected to be sixth when this week's updated BCS rankings are released at 6 p.m. Eastern time. Projections -- including those from collegebcs.com -- have USC moving from seventh to fifth in front of OSU.
But, while OSU's hopes of returning to the national championship game at the Sugar Bowl seem to be fleeting, the Buckeyes are once again in control of their own destiny when it comes to the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl. OSU regained that control when Wisconsin, the only team to defeat OSU in the team‘s last 22 games, suffered its second Big Ten defeat with a 16-7 loss at Northwestern.
Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) and Michigan (7-2, 4-1) are in the same position, although they play each other this weekend at East Lansing. The winner of that game as well as OSU, provided it can win at Penn State (2-6, 0-4) on Saturday, will be the front runners headed down the stretch in the Big Ten.
Following PSU, OSU will host Michigan State and Purdue (6-2, 3-1) before wrapping the season at Michigan Nov. 22.
"We've got four tough ones left," said quarterback Craig Krenzel. "We pretty much knew with one loss, you're still in control in this conference. It is a very balanced conference with a lot of great football teams. We're looking at a four-game stretch with probably four of the toughest teams in the conference. It's a tremendous challenge and it's going to be fun."
The defending national champions may be a long shot to get to the Sugar Bowl. But they know there won't even be any debate about that if they taste defeat again over the next four weeks.
"We have to take each game and practice hard every week to get ready for our next opponent," said OSU cornerback Chris Gamble. "We are really not thinking about the national championship. We have to take each team one step at a time and be ready to play."
But OSU offensive tackle Shane Olivea isn't ready to give up hope yet.
"The biggest thing is we were in the same position in the BCS last year," he said. "We were sixth and Oklahoma was No. 1. Crazier things have happened. Look at Virginia Tech, anybody can beat anybody on any given day. This shows you how good our conference is, first of all. Secondly, you have to play every game like it's your last game. If we win out, we control our own destiny."
It would help if the OSU offense can sustain the success it found at Indiana, where OSU more than doubled its season average of 278 yards total offense by going for 603 yards.
"As an offense, we've talked about just forgetting what you're hearing and play your best four weeks of football," Olivea said. "I think at times we may have been pressing. When you do that, you hurt the team. I'm just going to give my all for the next four weeks."
Whitner's First Pick
True freshman nickel back Donte Whitner is starting to make his presence felt. Against Iowa, he fell on a blocked punt for OSU's only touchdown in a 19-10 win. Then, against Indiana, he notched his first career interception, a pick that helped the Buckeyes extend a 14-0 lead to 21-0 at halftime.
On the play, IU quarterback Matt LoVecchio tried to drill the ball in to tight end Aaron Halterman. But OSU cornerback Dustin Fox converged on Halterman and the ball went through his hands, right to Whitner. He returned the errant pass 5 yards to the Indiana 49 with 1:27 left in the first half.
"We were in Cover-2," Whitner said. "The tight end did a 10- or 12-yard out. No. 1 did a go (route) or something. Coach always preaches to me, `Get off the hash when you see that.' I got off the hash and Dustin (Fox) made contact with him. The ball squirted through and it came to me.
"It felt real good. I wish I could have returned it for a touchdown, which I was trying to do, but it didn't happen. I'm just happy with the interception."
The interception set the stage for OSU's seven-play scoring drive just before the half, capped by Krenzel's 15-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with just eight seconds left.
"That was very important," Whitner said. "The coaches always preach about getting turnovers and it happened. We were talking about getting an interception right before that play. It happened and it put points on the board for us."
Whitner discussed the defense's smothering effort, holding the Hoosiers to 131 yards total offense, including minus-12 yards rushing.
"It was a nice effort all the way around," Whitner said. "That 143 yards passing, most of that came against the second team. The first string did a tremendous job. We feel good about it."
* OSU's Gamble on the support the Buckeyes had from 20,000 or more OSU fans at Indiana: "It was good. We had everybody from Ohio -- it sounded like -- here today."
* OSU coach Jim Tressel on having 20,000 OSU fans in attendance: "That's all the seats we could get. If we could have had 30,000 (seats), I'm sure we would've had that many (fans). That's a special feeling for our players to come out and there is as much noise for us as there is for the opponent. Last year, we had the same kind of thing when we went to Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. That was the same kind of lift. When we travel in the Big Ten and we have that following it's a great thing."
* Tressel on having former OSU player and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac Sr. serve as the game's honorary captain: "Fred Pagac Sr. gave the address at the pregame meal. You could tell how proud he was to be back at Ohio State. It was an emotional time, I'm sure, for his son to be in front of that huddle. He knows a lot of the kids. I'm sure it was a special and emotional day for Fred Pagac."
* Tressel on the performance of Krenzel (19 of 26 passing, 272 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT): "It starts with pass protection. He wasn't rushed a whole bunch so he didn't have to throw before he wanted to. He also dropped it off and threw some to those outlets when his receivers may have been covered. That was a real plus."
* Krenzel discussed how things went for the offense: "I think we played well. The guys who can make plays, we got the ball in their hands. We threw short, we ran and we threw the ball downfield a couple times. Those are the things we need to keep doing. We need to avoid some of the penalties. We also need to get rid of the turnovers.
"It all starts with our ability to run the ball and then throw the ball pretty well. When you can do both well, it makes it a lot easier on offense. Our receivers ran great routes and our protection was pretty much flawless. When that happens, you can sit in the pocket and work your checkdowns to your backs."
* Krenzel on losing flanker Drew Carter to injury: "We're all hoping and praying that he will have a speedy recovery and it's not too serious. With that said, Drew is a great player. As soon as he steps on the field, he's the fastest guy on the field and he has the ability to make big plays for us. He's been around a long time. He's a smart kid who runs great routes. We're definitely going to miss him. At the same time, it's an opportunity for somebody else. Santonio Holmes had a great game today. He can make plays. We're going to count on him to continue to step up in his absence and make plays."
* Krenzel on Lydell Ross' career rushing performance (23 carries, 167 yards, three TDs): "Lydell played great for us today. Our line did a good job of opening up the holes. Sometimes, there will be somebody there that we can't block. We always know that. Lydell did a good job of sticking it up in there and getting an extra yard or two. He ran hard."
* OSU tight end Ben Hartsock also discusses the improved offensive showing: "It's a step that we needed. It's a little bit of a confidence boost. But you can let yourself get overconfident in the way we played today. We had some penalties and some plays where we could have had some more points. We had some mistakes, but it is nice to come into a game not screw up every play. It's a little bit of a momentum. We have to take it for what it's worth.
"Penn State is going to be a little bit better defense, then Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan. It's a progression that we're going to have to keep getting better. The good news is we finally took a step."
* Olivea shares his slant on why the offense did so well: "I think the biggest thing was we stuck to our game plan. I don't know if we've ever done that in the past. We didn't abandon the run. That was the biggest thing for us. The running backs made some nice cuts, and that's what we've emphasized. Sometimes the hole isn't going to be where it's designed because of the defense. Sometimes you have to make the first guy miss, and we did that today on a consistent basis."
* OSU defensive tackle Tim Anderson talks about the defense's fine performance: "We just went out there and did our job. That was the big key -- every guy out there was doing his job. They were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do. That makes it hard on the offense when you do that."
* Anderson on seeing the offense come to life: "I was glad to see the offense have such a great day. It was a team effort today. The offense did what they had to do, the defense did what they had to do and it all worked out."