Either they could come back with a newfound sense of purpose, redouble their efforts and work on putting the 35-3 loss to the Trojans firmly in the rear-view mirror or they could dwell upon the negative, struggle to move forward and run the risk of turning a loss into a losing streak.
Although practice is closed to the media, the Buckeyes seemed confident that Tuesday's practice showed them that they are on the track toward the former option more than the latter.
"I think we've definitely bounced back," junior safety Kurt Coleman said after practice. "I think today we had a great practice. Everyone was flying around and I actually saw some guys getting into fights, which is good. I haven't seen that in awhile. It's good to see everyone is trying to get better."
One possible explanation for that newfound sense of aggression is pressure being applied to the team's starters to keep them from being complacent. Following the loss to USC, former OSU linebacker and current radio analyst Chris Spielman said he would walk into practice, burn the depth chart in full view of the team and force everyone to earn – or re-earn – their starting spots through their play in practice.
Head coach Jim Tressel apparently set no actual fires when the team returned from California because, as senior captain Malcolm Jenkins describes it, that pressure already exists each week.
"From the depth chart standpoint, everybody is fighting," he said. "There's competition. Guys' spots are never locked in. I think we're doing fine as far as that."
In their attempts to overcome the loss, the Buckeyes have had plenty of upperclassmen to lean on. That has put more pressure on those players, and in particular the team's four senior captains, to make sure things head in the right direction.
"You have to make sure that your guys are rallying around you," senior captain James Laurinaitis said. "They're going to look up to you to see what kind of leadership you possess. I'm just going to do the best of my abilities to prove to these guys that there's a lot to fight for in this season and this thing could go either way and it's going to start on Saturday."
That sense of leadership apparently was demonstrated throughout Tuesday's practice.
"We just have to roll up our sleeves and get to work," senior right guard Ben Person said. "We had a real good practice today and we got after it. It was one of the most physical practices we've had since camp. We've got to get back to work."
That does not mean the Buckeyes are simply forgetting what happened against USC, however. There is still plenty of football left to be played.
"A lot of guys are still depressed and it's still a wound; that first loss is always going to be that way," senior defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "Our captains and seniors are telling us to keep going and we've still got a whole season to play for. We had a great practice today and the older guys were a big part of that.
"Yes it hurts, but like you saw last year somebody lost two games and we lost a game as well. There's still a chance so we're keeping this open."