The only drama on Saturday, though, was how much Ohio State would beat Northwestern by.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes shrugged off an early 7-0 deficit and roared to a 48-7 win over the 25th-rated Wildcats before 105,181 on senior day at Ohio Stadium.
"We're really proud of this senior group," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "You could tell all week in practice from the way everyone was preparing that we were certainly going to be prepared for this game and we have nothing but the utmost respect for Northwestern and that certainly enhances your preparation.
"But I think the biggest thing was you could feel is that our team and our coaching staff wanted to make sure that this group of seniors had a great day in their last day in Ohio Stadium and both sides of the ball did some good things and special teams did some good things.
"We've got to get better between now and next Saturday, but we're real proud of the kids today."
The victory puts Ohio State (8-2, 6-1) in position to play for at least a share of what would be its 30th Big Ten championship in next Saturday's showdown at No. 21 Michigan.
Even better, if OSU defeats Michigan and Michigan State is able to upset Penn State next Saturday, the Buckeyes would have their first outright Big Ten title since 1984 and would automatically be ticketed for a Bowl Championship Series bid at the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls.
OSU All-American linebacker A.J. Hawk made a strong case for the Butkus Award, for which he is one of three finalists. Hawk returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, had a sack and also forced a fumble by NU tailback Tyrell Sutton.
The Buckeyes won their fifth straight game and eclipsed the 40-point barrier for the fourth consecutive game for the first time since late in the 1995 season.
"We got 40 points for the fourth straight game in a row so we must be doing something right," said OSU quarterback Troy Smith.
Smith had a pair of short touchdown runs, finishing with 75 yards on 11 carries. He was 7 of 12 passing for 77 yards with an interception. Smith said he was driven by the fact NU upset OSU 33-27 in overtime last year in Evanston.
"We lost to them last year and that was a crushing blow," Smith said. "Throughout the whole week, I was telling the guys ‘We have to win this game.' It was cold up there when we lost last year. I didn't appreciate that at all."
OSU tailback Antonio Pittman had 132 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, pushing him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Pittman, who left the game briefly with an injury, now has 1,110 yards on 199 carries for the year.
"I think he got dinged up a little did it," Tressel said. "The trainers, I don't know exactly what they did, worked on him or whatever. He came back and he was heading north/south and broke some tackles. And as he's been doing all year, I think every game he's getting better, getting more confidence.
"His vision, I think, it continues to get better and better and his pad level has been where we want it and if he'll keep doing that, as we've been saying each week, it gives us a much, much better chance to be a complete offense."
Pittman's backup, Maurice Wells, added 70 yards on 13 carries, including a 13-yard run for his first career touchdown.
OSU split end Santonio Holmes also had a big day. He had three catches for 49 yards to go with a 35-yard kick return and a key 24-yard punt return.
NU quarterback Brett Basanez had a rough day for the Wildcats (6-4, 4-3). He was 15 of 31 passing for 121 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"They're (Ohio State's defense) one of the best we've seen," Basanez said. "We didn't capitalize and make plays. They're a good team and they'll make you pay for that. We knew they were a Top 10 team and we knew we needed to come out and make plays. We didn't and, like I said, they made us pay for it."
Sutton, a former Ohio Mr. Football award winner at Akron Hoban and the state's career prep rushing leader, had 93 yards on 14 carries. He also caught a touchdown pass.
"He is a great back," said OSU defensive end Mike Kudla. "He is really shifty and has some great feet. A.J. and I were amazed and we talked about how we thought we had him a few times and he just kept moving those feet and got away."
The OSU defense held Northwestern to a season-low 251 yards total offense – 257 below NU's season average of 508.1.
"It was a great win and awesome to see everybody competing for the seniors," said linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who matched Hawk's eight tackles. "Everybody was flying around and having fun. There was a lot of emotion today. It was fun to go out there and compete with these guys one last time here at home."
NU coach Randy Walker discussed the play by the Buckeyes as well as his team.
"We were playing a good football team," Walker said. "I give OSU credit. I've been coaching for 30 years and I've never seen anyone better than A.J. Hawk. He's surrounded by other good players. (The defense) closed down our offense.
"You have to execute when you play a team like Ohio State and we didn't execute today. Our team will learn from our mistakes and put this loss behind us. We gave them some punts because we missed our targets and you can't miss targets against (Ted) Ginn and (Satonio) Holmes."
Northwestern had the ball to open the game and moved 80 yards in a brisk nine plays for the game's first score. Basanez shrugged off an early sack by OSU's Donte Whitner and hit Jonathan Fields down the seam for a 28-yard gain to the OSU 39. On second down there, Sutton ripped off a 34-yard gain down to the OSU 5. On the very next play, Basanez stayed alive in the pocket and lofted a 5-yard touchdown pass to the wide open Sutton in the left flat. The play gave NU a quick 7-0 lead with 12:34 left in the first quarter.
"We're thinking, ‘Let's come out on the next series and play hard,' " Schlegel said. "We figured out how they were blocking different things. That's what's great. We're all coaches on the field and we see what they're doing and we can adapt."
OSU's Holmes fielded the ensuing short kickoff and burst through a seam for a 35-yard return to the Northwestern 45. OSU moved the rest of the way in a methodical 11 plays. Pittman carried on six of them for 21 yards. Smith had the other five plays for 24 yards, including the 4-yard touchdown run. On the touchdown, Smith was looking to throw. He rolled right, got hit at the NU 2 by linebacker Tim McGarigle and spun to the goal line for the touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with 6:53 left in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes had great field position on their second possession as Holmes returned a punt 24 yards to the NU 44 and NU's Sean Mansfield was flagged for a late hit penalty. OSU needed seven plays to move the 29 yards for its second touchdown. After a holding penalty early in the possession on tackle Doug Datish, Smith hit Holmes for a 22-yard gain. Smith then converted a third-and-6 predicament with an 8-yard slant pass to Ted Ginn Jr.
On second-and-goal from the 2, Smith ran right behind linemen T.J. Downing and Alex Boone, tight end Marcel Frost and fullback Stan White Jr. for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 1:02 left in the second quarter.
Things went from bad to worse for Northwestern as OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock broke through and blocked a punt by Slade Larscheid. The ball skitted backwards off the hands of OSU's Bobby Carpenter and right to Hawk, who picked it up at the 8 and rolled into the end zone for the score and a 21-7 lead with 14:42 left in the first half.
"We were in our Punt Safe set, which is the regular defense," Pitcock said. "We do that when we feel like they're in range of running a fake. We're there to stop that and then make a play. I was able to get up and under and block the punt.
"Once I hit it, I was going crazy because I couldn't find the ball. Someone said it went a mile high in the air. I finally saw Bobby get a hit on it and A.J. picked it up. I was just running behind him into the end zone. We were all celebrating in there having fun."
The teams traded interceptions midway through the second quarter as Smith was intercepted deep in NU territory by Marquice Cole. However, seven plays later, OSU's Ashton Youboty picked off an errant Basanez pass down the middle, outfighting NU's Ross Lane for the ball at the OSU 37 with 4:44 left in the first half.
"We practice against that route a lot and we knew they had a lot of big plays on that route against Iowa," Youboty said. "We knew it was coming. I just jumped it when I read it. I bobbled it, but I knew I had it all the way."
Ohio State then moved 63 yards in seven plays to its fourth touchdown. Pittman had returned to the game after briefly leaving with a back injury. He had four carries for 34 yards on this drive. But Wells capped it, bursting through a huge hole over the right side for the 13-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 1:37 left in the half.
"It was a toss to the right," Wells said. "Our running backs coach did a good job of telling us to be patient. He said it would probably hit on the inside, and that's exactly what it did. The hole opened up for me and I ran right in for the easy touchdown."
Hawk forced a fumble by Sutton early in the second half. Youboty recovered it at the NU 18-yard line.
"(Hawk) had my entire body covered and I tried to move my other hand to cover it," Sutton said. "I couldn't, though, and the he stripped the ball out."
But the Buckeyes were not able to get a first down and had to settle for Josh Huston's 33-yard field goal and a 31-7 lead with 11:21 left in the third quarter.
OSU extended its lead to 38-7 later in the third with a six-play, 80-yard march. Pittman got it started with runs of 14 and 11 yards. Smith then hit Holmes for 7 yards on a comeback route. Pittman then had a big burst up the middle for 24 yards down to the NU 24. Smith then hit Holmes on a quick pass to the left. He followed Datish down the sideline for a 20-yard gain to the 4. On first down there, Pittman took a pitch right and rolled into the end zone behind Ginn with 5:52 left in the third.
The Buckeyes substituted liberally in the fourth quarter. Wells and backup quarterback Justin Zwick led OSU down the field for a drive that resulted in Huston's 37-yard field goal with 13:20 left that made it 41-7.
Redshirt freshman tailback Erik Haw tacked on a 3-yard touchdown run with 4:53 left to cap the scoring. Haw, who found the end zone for the first time, ended up with 39 yards on eight carries.
After Northwestern's first play of the next series, OSU called timeout with 4:49 left and, one by one, took out each senior starter on defense to a huge ovation.
* OSU is now 31-4 at home under Tressel. Tressel is now 48-13 in five years at OSU. He improved to 4-1 against Northwestern. NU coach Randy Walker, a Troy, Ohio, native, is now 1-4 against OSU.
* With the win Saturday, Ohio State has won 27 of its last 29 games at home over four seasons. The losses came against Wisconsin in 2004 and Texas Sept. 10.
* Ohio State leads the all-time series 56-14-1, including 31-8-0 in Columbus. OSU has now won 25 of the last 26 in the series, dating to a 1971 loss (14-10) in Columbus. OSU has now won the last 13 meetings in Columbus.
* OSU improved to 4-2 against ranked teams this season and is now 20-7 against ranked teams under Tressel.
* Pittman hit the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this year and seventh time in his career.
With Pittman leading the way, Ohio State rushed for a season-high 317 yards Saturday on 54 attempts. Previously this season, Ohio State had 314 yards against Iowa Sept. 24.
* Pittman is the 23rd running back in OSU history to hit 1,000 yards and the first since Maurice Clarett in 2002.
* Smith's two rushing touchdowns give him nine for the season, tying him for the fourth most rushing touchdowns in a season by an OSU quarterback. Les Horvath set the record with 14 in 1944.
* Youboty's interception was his first of the year and fifth of his career.
"It's a relief to get one," said Youboty. "My teammates put pressure on me every week to make plays. Nate Salley said, ‘We're tied now.' "
* The last time Ohio State blocked a punt was Jan. 2, 2004 vs. Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, when Harlen Jacobs blocked a Kansas State punt and John Hollins recovered the football in the end zone.
The punt block counts as the first in Pitcock's career and the touchdown was Hawk's second as a Buckeye. Hawk's first TD came on a 34-yard interception return Sept. 7, 2002 vs. Kent State in Ohio Stadium.
* OSU will wrap up the regular season next Saturday at Michigan. The Wolverines improved to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in Big Ten play with a 41-14 win over Indiana. The game will start at 1 p.m. and will be televised regionally by ABC.