By Rusty Miller | Associated Press
COLUMBUS — Coming down the stretch, No. 6 Ohio State’s biggest goal — going 12-0 — is still very much within reach.
Some of the Buckeyes don’t want to talk about it for fear of jinxing it. Others freely acknowledge that there’d be nothing better than running the table and showing up all of the naysayers after last year’s losing season and a year of NCAA violations, suspensions, sanctions and humiliation.
Even coach Urban Meyer — who jokingly chided a reporter for mentioning that Ohio State’s center hasn’t made a bad snap all year — mentions 12-0 to his team.
“We know how big it is and it’s rare that you see a team go undefeated,” wide receiver Corey Brown said. “We know that, because (Meyer) talks about it all the time, obviously. This group is hungry enough and everybody wants to do it because we’re all in, all the time.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll do it.”
The Buckeyes are banned from going to a bowl game, so it’s a longshot that they could impress enough Associated Press media voters to climb all the way to No. 1 without playing after the regular-season finale on Nov. 24 against No. 23 Michigan.
But 12-0? All that requires is coming off a bye week and winning at Wisconsin on Saturday before knocking off the rival Wolverines a week later.
“We need to be 12-0,” fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said. “It’s one game at a time. We’re not thinking about injuries, polls (or the fact that) we have nothing after the Team Up North game. We’ve got the two biggest games of the season coming up.”
Meyer was asked on Monday if, knowing that his team can’t play in a bowl, he has to fight the urge to think the Buckeyes might miss out on all the national championship talk because there will be no postseason games.
“You know, I could lie to you and say that I don’t. Every once in a while (I think about it), but not as much as I thought,” he said. “I’ll hear it and read it once in a while, and I have good friends in the profession that will make a comment, and I’ll think about it for a second. But then I go back to knowing exactly who we were, and you go back to how we’ve won and who we are right now. We’re pretty fortunate where we are. Let’s find a way to get (win) No. 11.”
How rare is an unblemished season with no losses or ties? Consider that Ohio State trumpets that it has won seven national championships — yet has only gone unbeaten five times in 122 previous seasons of football.
The only perfect seasons have come in 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002. In Buckeyes lore, each has its own, distinct flavor, figurehead or fact.
The ’16 team that went 7-0-0 was led by Ohio State’s first great player, halfback Charles “Chic” Harley. Carroll Widdoes was a rookie coach (Paul Brown had left abruptly after the ’43 season) and Les Horvath became the first of the school’s seven Heisman Trophy winners while going 9-0-0 in ’44.
Fans burned first-year coach Woody Hayes in effigy in 1951, but three years later he led the Buckeyes to a 10-0-0 record. Left halfback Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, who would win the Heisman in 1955, was the star.
Hayes’ “Super Sophs” — Jack Tatum, Rex Kern, John Brockington, Leophus Hayden, Larry Zelina, Tim Anderson, Jan White, Jim Stillwagon and others — went 9-0-0 and then beat O.J. Simpson and Southern California 27-16 in the 1969 Rose Bowl.
And then there was Ohio State’s most recent national championship team in 2002, which won seven games by seven points or fewer. Jim Tressel’s team beat No. 1 Miami 31-24 in double-overtime in the Fiesta Bowl in the national championship game.
This year’s team has won ugly (holding off Central Florida, California, UAB and Michigan State), won big (63-38 against No. 16 Nebraska) and won improbable (trailing 22-14 with under a minute left without starting quarterback Braxton Miller, yet beating Purdue, 29-22 in overtime).
Defensive end John Simon urges caution on all the 12-0 talk.
“We’re just not getting ahead of ourselves. We know every day is going to count if we want to achieve our goals,” he said. “There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel. You can see it. But these are going to be two of our toughest games of the year. So we’re going to have to make sure we’re prepared for each one of them and doing whatever we can to leave nothing to chance.”
Meyer wants to take it a step at a time, too.
“I tried years ago not to control what we can’t control,” he said. “We’ve got to have a really good Tuesday practice. We can control that. We can’t control anything else.”
There’s no need for the coaching staff to even bring up what winning these last two games would mean.
“We realize we have a legitimate chance to go undefeated,” Brown said. “I don’t think (Meyer) has to emphasize the rankings and what we have to do. He knows that we know what we have to do now.”
Boren, a senior, has seen a lot of ups and downs in his four years on campus. Just like the five unbeaten teams, he knows that a perfect record would put the Buckeyes — his Buckeyes — in the record books, not to mention the lasting memory of Ohio State fans.
“It’d mean a lot,” he said. “It would mean a lot to this team, just because of how much we have been through and how hard we’ve worked and how much time we’ve put in. We really need to finish.
“Going 12-0, it’d be nice.”