That's because if there was a noteworthy word that seemed to seep into a few of the interviews held on Ohio State's media day in mid-December, it was "invincible." A number of Buckeyes saw fit to note that while a year ago, the team went into the national title game holding the No. 1 ranking and without a blemish on the schedule, this year's squad already has felt the sting of losing.
The loss to Rose Bowl-bound Illinois on Senior Day Nov. 11 in Ohio Stadium by a 28-21 count was Ohio State's first regular-season failure since more than two years prior at Penn State. It seemed sure to knock the Buckeyes out of any shot at playing in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.
Instead, after the Buckeyes fell to No. 7 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, all six teams placed above them in the Nov. 11 BCS table would lose again before the end of the season. The result is that Ohio State, with a new lease on life, sits atop the standings and is playing in the title game.
"We feel we're not invincible," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "Last year, we thought no team in the nation could beat us. This year, we know if we don't play our best game, we can get beat."
It became clear, after the fact, that knowledge could have been rather helpful for Ohio State a year ago. The Buckeyes, led by a Heisman Trophy winner in Troy Smith and first-round draft picks in Anthony Gonzalez and Ted Ginn Jr., spent their entire 51-day layoff between a historic win over No. 2 Michigan and the title game against Florida hearing about just how good a team they were. Most observers made Ohio State, the nation's top team since before the season kicked off, the prohibitive favorite in the game.
Of course, Ohio State instead lost Ginn early and didn't give Florida much of a game during the Gators' 41-14 win. Some have hinted that last year's team was not as focused as it should have been going into the game, a fate the Buckeyes say they will avoid this year.
"I think there's more of an awareness that we aren't invincible, and maybe last year we kind of had that feeling," wideout Brian Hartline said. "If anything, the loss to Illinois woke us up. We realized that we can lose, anybody can win."
Moreover, the loss makes the Buckeyes like every other team in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision football except for Hawaii. The 12-0 Warriors, who won the Western Athletic Conference, are still only 10th in the BCS and will play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, also in New Orleans, this evening.
Every other team in the national title picture ended up with two losses; just Kansas, which was No. 8 in the final BCS rankings, had one loss but zero wins against BCS top-25 squads.
"Obviously there's not one team in the nation that's at the top undefeated really besides Hawaii," Ohio State fullback Tyler Whaley said.
As a result of everything, Whaley said the loss to Illinois might have helped the Buckeyes in the grand scheme of things. The Buckeyes were forced to check their guts, return to practice and work toward a win against rival Michigan a week later.
"I think it kind of helps us because we have that loss," Whaley said. "We know we're not invincible and we know what we have to do. I think it helped us come together as a team, so I have no regrets losing that game. We're where we want to be at the end of the year."
"The loss is definitely beneficial," he said. "It really didn't hurt us at this point because we're still in the national championship game, so if anything it helped us."
Just how much it helped Ohio State will be seen the night of Jan. 7.