Sitting at 7-2 with three regular-season games left, Ohio State is coming off a loss that has knocked it out of the national championship picture. While the Buckeyes dropped a one-touchdown affair to Penn State the last time they took the field, it was a lopsided loss suffered to USC in week three that was more damaging to the team's national perception.
Despite the fact that OSU was kept out of the end zone en route to a 35-3 loss to the Trojans on Sept. 13, that has not kept some of the Buckeyes hoping for a chance to play USC again this season.
Should OSU finish second in the Big Ten and Penn State find itself playing for the national championship, the Buckeyes could find themselves headed out west to play in the Rose Bowl. That could mean a rematch against the Trojans – potentially a frightening proposition given USC's dominance the first time around.
However, senior tight end Rory Nicol said he would like a chance to avenge the team's loss from early in the season.
"It's a great possibility, isn't it?" Nicol said. "Yeah, I'd love to play USC again. They're a great team. I'm not saying they're not a good team, but I want to play against the best. I don't want to play against some team that isn't going to be competitive."
At 7-1 and 5-1 in the Pac-10, USC leads the conference and would receive its automatic BCS bid should that continue. However, as senior punter A.J. Trapasso pointed out, there is still a lot of football left to be played.
"A little redemption match if you will, but there's a lot of games to be played still and we'll see what happens," he said. "I personally wouldn't mind going to the Rose Bowl at all. We're looking forward to any opportunity we would have to go out there."
Talk Is Cheap: Throughout the first few games of the season, the OSU defensive line was viewed as a source of concern. The Buckeyes were not getting adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and running backs were finding gaps to run through in the OSU defense.
However, those problems have decreased in the past few games as the line has begun to show the depth each member has claimed the unit has possessed all along. According to senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah, that increased production has come as the line has stopped talking about itself.
In his eyes, that is no coincidence.
"For some reason we weren't doing what we had to do and we were always talking about how we had to get better because we're not playing up to our potential," Abdallah said. "All the talking pretty much stopped, and that's what I think happened.
"We stopped talking because the talking wasn't doing anything and after that we stepped up our game. We showed it instead of talked about it. It shows that it's not about that talk but it's about going out there and doing business."
One player who has helped out in that regard is sophomore defensive end Thaddeus Gibson. The team leader with 4.0 sacks, Gibson has 2.0 sacks in the last three games and 3.0 in the last six.
According to Abdallah, Gibson's production has grown along with his understanding of the entire defense.
"At first he had some trouble learning the plays but lately he's turned it around 100 percent," he said. "He knows all his plays and he is out there performing to his capabilities. I don't think he had that confidence early in the season because he didn't have so many snaps under his belt. Now he's out there and he's confident. He believes in himself and I think that's the No. 1 thing out there that has changed him."
Civil War: They might now be teammates, but for a few hours this weekend it appears Terrelle Pryor and Nicol will be enemies.
On Friday night, Nicol's alma mater will square off against Pryor's in the second round of the WPIAL Class AA Pennsylvania state playoffs. Jeannette won the title last season with Pryor at the helm, but to repeat as champions it will have to defeat Nicol's Beaver Area Bobcats.
Nicol admitted he was aware of the situation, but downplayed the significance by citing his lack of ties to the team.
"I just talked to my high school coach and Terrelle said something to me in the locker room," Nicol said. "I said to Terrelle, I don't know anybody on my high school team and I don't know what they're about.
"Some of the guys, especially the Ohio guys, get so into the high school stuff. I'm so far removed from it. I rarely get back home."
That did not stop him from making a prediction, however.
"Obviously I'm going to go with my high school, but Jeannette has been known as Beaver-slayers," he said.
Don't Listen: It is no secret that fans like to voice their displeasure at football games regardless of the level of competition. OSU head coach Jim Tressel said that in the college world, however, it is harder to hear what fans are yelling at him than in high school.
"I haven't been to many high school games, but the high school games I've been to, you can hear every one of those idiots clearly," Tressel said. "At least in our stadium, what they're yelling is muffled."
According to senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie, that depends on where one is standing on the sidelines.
"I think Coach Tressel is a little bit closer to the field, but sitting on the bench sometimes you hear it," he said. "They're not going to say anything when the play works, even if it wasn't the play they picked or didn't like. If it works, they're happy. If it was a play that they did pick and it didn't work, then somebody's wrong.
"They're going to say what they're going to say and that's why they're in the stands, I guess."
The situation changes on the road, however. When the Buckeyes faced Michigan State on Oct. 18, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman suggested a play that Tressel initially vetoed when faced with a third-and-11 situation inside the red zone in the second quarter.
"I said, ‘Bolls, what do you want?' and he said … a lead draw,' " Tressel said. "I'm thinking, ‘A lead draw? Man, if we were playing at home the tomatoes would be coming out.' "
They were not playing at home, but it is still unlikely that would have been the result of the call. The handoff went to Chris "Beanie" Wells, who took it 12 yards to the end zone to increase the OSU lead to 28-0.