No bowl? For now, it's no problem
OCT 31, 2012 10:00p ET
There's never what a coach would call a good time for the kind of postseason ban the Buckeyes are serving this season, and the fact that Urban Meyer's first Ohio State team stands at 9-0 makes the timing in this case even worse. In an odd way, though, the Buckeyes aren't just living a charmed life at this point of the college football season but a distraction-free one, at least in relation to other unbeaten and highly ranked teams.
The Buckeyes can move forward without concern about their ranking in polls of either the human or computer variety. There are no scenarios to sweat, conference title games to survive or January travel plans to be made. Ohio State is very much still a work in progress, and there are no signs around the program that the focus is on anything but making continued progress.
"We're just worried about Illinois on Saturday," Meyer said. "We're trying to get better and win another game. Really, how good are we? At times, we're really good. At other times, we're not.
"We're in no position to start worrying about down the road or anything else."
If there's one top-10 team that can say it's not feeling any pressure and come close to meaning it, it's this Ohio State team. The Buckeyes rank No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and are ineligible for the Coaches poll or BCS standings. The top four in all three polls are unbeaten and very much alive in the race for the two spots in the BCS title game, and No. 1 Alabama's game at No. 5 LSU this weekend has sparked discussion about how a one-loss team might eventually fit in that race.
That's what coaches call removing the focus from what's directly ahead, even if it is a 2-6 team like Illinois or the 1-7 Colorado team that No. 4 Oregon played last week.
That, too, is what gives coaches gray hairs and short tempers.
Meyer, who's twice raised the national championship trophy (at Florida), knows he's at least 14 months away from the chance to raise another. He's said several times he doesn't know how good this team is, and that's part of what allows him to confidently answer "no" when asked if the current win streak has put extra pressure on his team to keep it going.
"We talk about being 9-0 and what 9-0 means to us," Meyer said. "And I know you've heard me say it, but we all believe it, that the best thing about being 9-0 is the chance to go win one more. Don't look back, look forward."
Before the season, Meyer answered a multitude of questions about how to handle the bowl ban and how it might affect motivation in the second half of the season. The Big Ten ruled Ohio State eligible to win its conference division, just not to play in the league title game.
This is a Buckeyes team that trailed UAB early, had to scramble to beat Cal, needed all 60 minutes to hold off Indiana and pulled off a miracle home win over Purdue two weeks ago. Meyer has worries; they're not about his team being spoiled or overconfident.
This Saturday, Ohio State plays against hapless Illinois and also against its bad habit of playing down to its competition. The focus, as it's been all season, remains squarely on the next game.
"We talked about (playing teams with bad records) in-house," Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said. "It's all mental. You have to play at a high level every week. You see Alabama; they don't care who they play against. They play at a high level. (Those are) the teams we like to think we're at the same level with, so we have to play dominant (games) like they do."
The Buckeyes are watching other teams, but they're not competing against any of them but the three remaining on the schedule. An overdue bye week follows Illinois, then Ohio State finishes its year at Wisconsin and at home against Michigan. Those are games the Buckeyes would look at as must-wins whether they were playing for all the Tostitos or none of them.
"Nah, no pressure," quarterback Braxton Miller said. "We just like getting ready for the next game. We just have to go out there and play the game like we usually play it."
Roby added: "We feel like we can win every game. We said that at the beginning of the season, so why not? Why stop now? We haven't changed. We're on path. We just want to keep doing everything we have to do to stay undefeated."
It wasn't long after last weekend's win at Penn State when Meyer deflected a question about the Buckeyes surviving despite their imperfections by saying he wanted to concentrate on the positives — and asking a rhetorical question of his own.
"How many 9-0 teams are there in the country?" Meyer asked.
He knew the answer. Just one, Ohio State.
The same one that doesn't have to worry about style points or watching other scoreboards the rest of the way.
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