For the last two weeks, the Ohio State football team did not have control.
By virtue of having lost to Illinois Nov. 10, the Buckeyes hopes at a national championship were out of their hands. Instead, the team was forced to wait to see if the teams ahead of them would falter and reopen the door to a chance at avenging last year's championship game loss.
In other words, the situation was less than ideal.
"You always wish it was up to you," senior fullback Dionte Johnson said. "You don't like cheering against people. You don't like all that."
Yet that was the situation in which Ohio State found itself. After the then-top ranked Buckeyes lost to the Fighting Illini, they found themselves sitting in seventh place in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
At the time, it appeared a shot at the big game was all but gone. Talk heading into the game at archrival Michigan was more about whether the team would be happy with the Rose Bowl given that the biggest prize had just been taken off the table.
"It pretty much kind of did," quarterback Todd Boeckman said when asked if he had originally thought the loss to Illinois had ended OSU's hopes. "We were seventh. We knew we would have to have a lot of things to happen for us to get back there."
A week later, OSU finished its season with a win against Michigan and watched two teams – Oregon and Oklahoma – ahead of it falter that same week, giving the Buckeyes the fifth-place spot in the BCS with their regular-season slate completed.
What the Buckeyes were left with was a two-week purgatory, which came in stark contrast to last year's situation in which No. 1 Ohio State knew it was headed to the BCS National Championship Game after defeating the Wolverines.
The result was unlike anything the players had ever been through in football.
"Last year you won and you knew where you were destined to be," said senior fullback Tyler Whaley. "For the first time you come in and you're not really quite sure where you're going to go."
Each player asked had a different view of what the intervening fortnight was like.
"It's been a roller coaster ride," Johnson said. "That was our fault."
Senior linebacker Larry Grant said he didn't lose any sleep over the matter – "I hope everybody else was the same way," he added – but said there weren't very many moments when OSU's bowl situation wasn't on his mind.
"All the time. Always there," he said. "It's a big game. It's the game. It's the biggest game."
For All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis, the final week was a lesson in patience.
"You just try to keep your emotions in check, and as the week went on, you just kind of say, ‘I wish the game would get here,'" he said.
In the end, Ohio State's hopes were rewarded. LSU and Kansas fell over the Thanksgiving weekend, then the top two teams, Missouri and West Virginia, did the honor on Saturday, leaving LSU and Ohio State standing as the two championship combatants. The resulting screams of joy from the team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, where most of the players watched that night's games, were the screams of a team that had been left without control yet still saw its goals come to fruition.
"I know last night the room was pretty high-strung there for a while," Whaley said. "I know a lot of people had it weighing on their minds and finally could get it off their chests and release the pressure."