Indiana-Ohio St. Preview
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Urban Meyer continues to dig in his heels whenever he's asked about anything other than the task at hand.
Such as when he faced a question on Monday about whether his seventh-ranked Buckeyes are one of the top four teams in the country - in other words, playoff-worthy.
"Not right now, no. No, I don't, because I don't want to make ignorant comments. I just don't know," said Meyer, whose team jumped two spots to No. 6 in Tuesday's College Football Playoff rankings.
"I'd make the comment that we're one win away from representing the East in the Big Ten championship game, because I do know that."
In his 13th year as a head coach, Meyer is skipping bold predictions. No embroidery about how great his team is and how it deserves to be ahead of Teams A and B in the CFP rankings.
Instead, he switches the conversation from what might be in six weeks to what will be this week.
The Buckeyes (9-1, 6-0) happily return home Saturday from a big two-game road swing to host Indiana (3-7, 0-6). Should they win - and they're favored by six touchdowns - they'll punch their ticket for the Big Ten title game for the second year in a row.
That really resonates for senior linebacker Curtis Grant, who has been on teams that despite winning a school-record 24 consecutive games at one point, and a current Big Ten record of 22 regular-season conference wins in a row, haven't captured a championship.
"Like I tell (teammates), we haven't won anything yet here," he said.
The Buckeyes strung together 24 wins in a row at the start of Meyer's tenure, then lost 34-24 to Michigan State in last year's Big Ten title game before falling 40-35 to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
The loss to the Spartans for the conference title - and getting back to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this year - provided incentive during the long hours of offseason conditioning last winter, spring workouts and August camp in 90-degree heat.
"That's been the ultimate goal, the No. 1 goal - the thing we had to do was get back there and win a championship," receivers coach Zach Smith said. "That's all we really talked about. There was no greater goal, nothing beyond that talked about, and that's been what our sights have been set on since day one, pretty much every day."
Grant said he's never forgotten what the Buckeyes missed - championship rings, the last BCS title game, respect, memories.
"It hurt just to lose all of that, especially coming off 24-0," he said. "We haven't won anything, so let's keep moving forward."
Now Indiana, saddled with a five-game skid and headed nowhere, stands in the way of Ohio State returning for another chance to collect the Big Ten's biggest trophy.
"Everything we did was to get another shot at the Big Ten championship. Everything," Meyer said. "And that's at the doorstep. I imagine that's why (the players) were pretty juiced up (Sunday) for practice."
Beyond the Indiana game, of course, lies the annual rivalry showdown with Michigan, also at Ohio Stadium. That will undoubtedly provide even more energy and motivation.
The Buckeyes sidestepped a setback with a resilient performance last Saturday in cold and snowy Minnesota, beating the gritty Gophers 31-24.
The one-touchdown margin won't stand out on a list of scores, considering Ohio State was a 12-point favorite and has lost only twice to Minnesota since 1966. But the Buckeyes were adamant afterward about the quality of this Big Ten win.
"I challenge any team in the country that wants to go ahead and schedule this one in November," Meyer said.
Freshman J.T. Barrett kept the ball on a third-and-1 read-option play in the first quarter and burst into a wide-open secondary for an 86-yard run, the longest ever by an Ohio State quarterback. He threw an interception and Jalin Marshall lost two fumbles, leading to 21 points for Minnesota, but the Buckeyes did plenty more right on an afternoon when it would have been easy for a lot to go wrong.
"Kind of rough, especially in that first half. Definitely got better in the second half," Barrett said.
Barrett threw three touchdowns, ran for another score and finished with 189 rushing yards, one of three of Braxton Miller's records he broke. Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards in another stellar showing filling in for the injured Miller.
"I had no idea that this is who J.T. Barrett is," Meyer said. "Very clear picture of who he is now."
Indiana's Tevin Coleman is coming off quite a performance of his own with a career-high 307 rushing yards last Saturday, but the Hoosiers lost 45-23 at Rutgers.
Coleman ranks second nationally with 1,678 rushing yards behind Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon's 1,909, and is 127 shy of Vaughn Dunbar's single-season school record from 1991.
The Hoosiers have lost 18 in a row to Ohio State since winning in Bloomington in 1988, a year after they ended a 23-game losing streak in the series by winning at Columbus.