Big Ten Title Would Be Special To OSU

Five games stand between Ohio State and an unprecedented third straight outright Big Ten championship, the next two of which against Michigan State and Penn State are the toughest on paper. As such, the Buckeye players know it's crunch time in their quest, which if fulfilled would be special considering how much the rings already won mean to the OSU upperclassmen.

Take a moment, if you will, to imagine the year 2028.

On a nice fall day in Ohio Stadium, halftime hits and a number of former football players stroll toward the Block O at the center of the field. The crowd rises to its feet as the public address announcer introduces a group of players that won four Big Ten rings, including three straight outright conference titles to become the first team in league history to earn that honor.

If the next five games go according to plan, that would be the fate that awaits the members of the 2008 Ohio State football team.

"That would be nice," senior fullback Brandon Smith said with a smile.

During a year in which the football program and Buckeye Sports Bulletin are honoring the 1968 national title team and the 1973 Big Ten champions, this anniversary squad has the chance to do great things.

With the 6-1 Buckeyes sitting at No. 12 in the latest AP poll, No. 11 in the coaches poll and No. 13 in the Harris poll, a third straight trip to the national title game is possible but seems unlikely. The most realistic major goal – and the only one for which the Buckeyes control their destiny – is to capture that Big Ten crown.

It doesn't hurt that winning a third outright title in a row would be an accomplishment that has never taken place since the conference's birth in 1896 when it was known as the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.

"For us, the biggest thing is nobody's ever done that before," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "That's our goal. We've let that be known. That's what this whole season is riding on for us to be the first team every in the Big Ten to win three outright in a row.

"To do that, we have to beat Michigan State, so that's what we're trying to focus on now."

As Jenkins alluded to, the Buckeyes' road to the Big Ten crown hits its toughest stretch starting Saturday with the game against the Spartans. Michigan State, ranked 20th in the nation, boasts a similar 6-1 overall record and 3-0 Big Ten mark.

A week after that is the biggest test, at least on paper. The third-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, who are also tied atop the league at 3-0 but who boast the only undefeated overall mark at 7-0, come to down for a titanic showdown under the lights in Ohio Stadium.

The importance of the upcoming weeks is not lost on head coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State, which hasn't lost to Michigan State since 1999 and Penn State in Columbus since 1978.

"We've talked about it this week," safety Anderson Russell said. "Coach Tressel said on Sunday that there's only three undefeated teams left in the Big Ten, and two of them are playing on Saturday. This is definitely going to be a deciding factor."

After that comes a bye week, followed by games on the road against Northwestern and Illinois before a final home clash with Michigan. If the Buckeyes navigate the entire slate without incident, history would be made.

"That would just be amazing to do something no one has ever done before," said senior fullback Ryan Lukens.

The Lukens family knows a little bit about winning Big Ten titles. Ryan's father, Bill, was a letter winner from 1974-76 and was part of the longest consecutive run of championships in the league's history. Ohio State won six straight crowns from 1972-77, though all but the '75 crown were shared with the Wolverines.

Even if the Buckeyes share the crown this year, they'd be in rarefied air. Only six other times have teams won the title or a share of it over a stretch of four straight seasons, with Michigan doing it the five times other than OSU's mid-1970s run.

Ohio State's run began in 2005, the year in which many of the current seniors were beginning to make a mark. The Buckeyes, boosted by an emerging offense featuring Troy Smith and a senior-laden defense led by A.J. Hawk, finished 7-1 that year to share the title with Penn State, which captured the head-to-head battle.

The Buckeyes didn't have to worry about sharing each of the last two years. In 2006, an Ohio State team boasting the Heisman Trophy winner in Smith rarely was challenged on the way to an undefeated league slate. Last season, a 7-1 mark was good enough to win the league thanks to a triumph over Michigan to end the regular-season slate.

"I definitely didn't think so," Maurice Wells said when asked if he could have imagined such a run. "The first year, we had a great team with A.J. Hawk and all of those guys. When they left, I didn't know how good that we'd be, but it's really true when they say Ohio State reloads, not rebuilds."

Over the years, players have seen their roles increase and change. One of the players to have a role on all teams is Jenkins, who was the nickel back in 2005 and has been a starter ever since.

Jenkins is no stranger to winning – or having an impact. He was a three-year starter in high school at Piscataway, N.J., and his team won the state title all three years, putting him on a six-year title streak.

"I've learned not to doubt anything over the years," Jenkins said. "I won three state championships in high school, so winning is all I knew."

No matter how believing they are that they've been able already to grab three rings, the seniors are proud of the accomplishment.

"They mean a lot," Smith said. "It takes a lot just to win a college football game … but to have a Big Ten championship ring, I think it's just something that you can look at it and say, ‘We did this together.' It's a good thing that sparks a memory."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories