The Buckeyes improved to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten play. A win over NU (6-3, 4-2) would allow OSU to draw even with idle Penn State for the conference lead.
And, of course, few members of OSU's senior class have forgotten how Northwestern sent their season spiraling downward with a 33-27 overtime win last year in Evanston, Ill. That was NU's first win over Ohio State since 1971.
"It's going to be huge," said OSU safety and co-captain Nate Salley. "We lost to Northwestern last year. It will be my last game in the ‘Shoe. It's going to be fun. It's going to be emotional."
Offensive guard and co-captain Rob Sims also discussed the importance OSU's seniors will place on their final appearance at Ohio Stadium.
"It is kind of emotional," Sims said. "I was standing out there next to Nate Salley and we were singing Carmen Ohio. It is going to be an emotional thing because we love it here so much. We've been playing together for so long. We've had four years of playing in the ‘Shoe. A lot of the guys in this class are from Ohio and we've known each other from playing against each other and playing in all-star games together.
"It's going to be hard with it being our last game in the ‘Shoe. It's going to be emotional but we want to enjoy it."
Sims recalled last year's improbable loss at Northwestern.
"It was crazy," he said. "We came out and we weren't ready to play. We hadn't lost to Northwestern in 33 years or something crazy like that. We came into the game and had a cocky attitude. That happens sometimes and they put it on us. Like Iowa, we just have to get payback."
But Northwestern, led by quarterback Brett Basanez, will be no pushover. Basanez led a furious late comeback on Saturday as the Wildcats rallied from down 24-7 to nip Iowa 28-27 in Evanston.
"They're a great team," Sims said. "They're well coached. They make big plays on offense and their defense will play hard. We've got to be ready for them and see if we can duplicate what we did today."
Defensive end Mike Kudla said the Buckeyes are aware of what NU is capable of.
"It's a huge game," Kudla said. "Today, a few of us were sitting around watching them at the start of their game. It's been a long four years. It will be a sad thing to see it go. Playing in the ‘Shoe is one of the greatest experiences I'll have in my life. We definitely have to bring our A game and focus on these guys because they're pretty good.
"Any time you play Northwestern, you know they will play their best game. And, especially after what happened last year, that sits with us. We know we have to focus on these Cats and go from there."
The Buckeyes moved up from 12th to 10th in the polls following the win over Illinois. They are hoping to get two wins and improve to 9-2, either locking down the Big Ten's automatic Bowl Championship Series bid or getting a look as an at-large team in the process.
To get the automatic bid, though, OSU needs to win out – beating Northwestern this weekend and Michigan Nov. 19 in Ann Arbor -- and hope Michigan State upsets Penn State Nov. 19 in East Lansing.
"Hopefully, if we win out we will be where we want to be," said linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "Next week, after four years, I can't tell you what my emotions will be on senior day. We have the guys that we've played with here and such strong relationships that we have built. It's going to be a roller coaster of emotions to run out of that tunnel on senior day.
"Only a certain number of people ever get to experience that and once your time is done, it's passed. All of the seniors are going to give it their best effort next week. You can count on that."
Linebacker and co-captain A.J. Hawk is wrapping up what figures to be a second straight All-American season. He, too, plans to enjoy one last appearance at Ohio Stadium.
"Who knows exactly what we'll be feeling," he said. "I think there will be all kinds of emotions going around for the seniors. I've seen it in the past how the seniors react to it. I know it will be tough, but we definitely do not want to come out and play flat for this game. We need to fly around and have fun."
Hawk vividly recalls the way the Wildcats pulled off the upset after OSU had opened the year 3-0.
"That was obviously the low point in our season last year," Hawk said. "Three losses in a row, that should never happen here at Ohio State. We don't want to let that happen this year. The Northwestern game sort of started that off. We didn't play well and we deserved to get beat. We need to make sure that doesn't happen this time around."
Hawk recognizes that Northwestern will be tough opponent. Their comeback win over Iowa – and other tight scrapes against Northern Illinois and Wisconsin – illustrates that.
"That didn't surprise me at all," he said. "I knew they always had a chance to win that game. An offense like Northwestern's is hard to stop. They're never out of the game, regardless of what the score is."
OSU center and co-captain Nick Mangold is also looking forward to his final home game with the Buckeyes.
"It's going to be a tough one, no matter what the records are or what the standings are," Mangold said. "That would always be a tough one. I don't know how I'll deal with it with my parents there. But then, with everything we have added in there, it should be a great atmosphere for us to go in and play."
OSU coach Jim Tressel is seeing his team come together at the right time. The Buckeyes are two wins away from the program's 30th Big Ten title. But Tressel said the late-season progress must continue.
"We know that offensively we've got to be better next week," Tressel said. "But it really isn't about proving things to people or expectations. It's really what our people want to do for each other. The offense wants to be good, the defense wants to provide that field position, and we're going to keep grinding."
The Big Ten's BCS bid will go to either the sole conference champion or the team that prevails in the tiebreaking procedure if more than one team ties for the title.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the Buckeyes do not prevail in any of the various tiebreakers. If OSU ties Penn State for the title at 7-1, PSU gets the nod on the head-to-head win.
It is also possible that three or even four teams could tie for the title with 6-2 records. Our research shows that:
* If Penn State, OSU and Wisconsin all tie at 6-2, Penn State gets the nod due to wins over the other two teams it would be tied with.
* If Penn State, OSU and Michigan all tie at 6-2 (and that would be based on a UM win over OSU), Michigan would get the nod for the BCS automatic bid with head-to-head wins over the other two teams.
* If there is a four-way tie at 6-2 with PSU, OSU, Wisconsin and Michigan, that tie would be narrowed to PSU and Michigan. (They would be 2-1 against the teams they are tied with.) Michigan would then prevail on its head-to-head win over PSU.
If Ohio State is not selected for a BCS bid – and those berths will not be announced until Sun., Dec. 4 – the Buckeyes could be ticketed for Jan. 2 appearances in either the Capital One Bowl in Orlando or the Outback Bowl in Tampa. OSU hasn't appeared in Orlando for a bowl game since the 1995 season.
The Road Ahead
Here is a look at OSU's last two games:
* Northwestern (6-3, 4-2), home, Nov. 12, noon (ABC) -- The Wildcats became bowl eligible with Saturday's comeback win over Iowa. NU boasts a strong offense with quarterback Brett Basanez and freshman running back Tyrell Sutton. A year ago, the Wildcats snapped a 24-game losing streak to Ohio State – a skid that dated to 1971 – with a 33-27 overtime win over the Buckeyes in Evanston.
* Michigan (6-3, 4-2), away, Nov. 19, time and TV TBA -- This will be the 102nd rendition of The Game. The Wolverines are putting their season back on track. Their Oct. 29 win over Northwestern was UM's third straight after a stunning 23-20 home loss to Minnesota on Oct. 8. Tressel is 3-1 against Michigan and the Buckeyes won 37-21 at home a year ago. But OSU is 1-7 in Ann Arbor since 1987.
Michigan was idle this past weekend and hosts Indiana this Saturday.