Ohio State won the Big Ten this year, which is nothing new. The Buckeyes have won or shared six league championships since 2002, cementing themselves as the team of the decade in the Big Ten.
But in some ways, this year's title run might be the most satisfying for Jim Tressel and his players.
It was a true team effort, as evidenced by only one consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection (safety Kurt Coleman). Plus, the Buckeyes seemed like an afterthought following an Oct. 17 loss to Purdue, only to produce yet another spotless November. They'll be rewarded with their first trip to Pasadena since Jan. 1, 1997, as they'll face No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).
Ohio State's defense was the Big Ten's best unit this fall despite losing national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins from last year's squad. The Buckeyes posted three shutouts and nearly had two more, as the no-name defense translated into no points. A front-seven led by Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle helped Ohio State rank fifth nationally against the run (83.4 yards per game), while Coleman anchored the secondary.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor struggled early but effectively ran a conservative scheme down the stretch, limiting his mistakes after a four-turnover disaster against Purdue. The much maligned offensive line made strides and running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron stepped up as well, giving Ohio State some momentum heading into the Rose Bowl.
Offensive MVP: DeVier Posey. The sophomore developed into a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver this fall, leading Ohio State with 727 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Posey ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 wideouts in both receptions and receiving yards, and his rapport with Pryor certainly shows. Honorable mentions go to Pryor, Saine and Herron.
Defensive MVP: Cameron Heyward. He lacked the eye-popping statistics of Brandon Graham, O'Brien Schofield and Ryan Kerrigan, but Heyward had the ability to totally dominate a game. The junior gave Penn State fits in a 24-7 Ohio State victory in Happy Valley, recording 11 tackles. Heyward led Ohio State with 5.5 sacks and projects extremely well to the next level if he chooses to enter the NFL draft. Honorable mentions go to both Coleman and Homan.
Turning point: Ohio State changed the Big Ten landscape by crushing Penn State 24-7 on Nov. 7 at Beaver Stadium. The Buckeyes already had some decent wins under their belt, but their dominating performance against Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions put them in position for another Big Ten title push.
What's next: The Buckeyes get another opportunity to improve their national reputation on a big stage. A win against Oregon would quiet the Buckeye bashing after three consecutive BCS bowl losses. A loss would only make things worse for Tressel, his team and most likely the league they continue to dominate. But regardless of the result Jan. 1, Ohio State likely will enter 2010 as a top 5 team.