COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The actual competition was completely overmatched.
The teams that most everybody else around the nation would be judging Ohio State against weren’t even on the same field.
So, in some respects, that left little for the Buckeyes to do but play against themselves and their own high standards.
That may have added a bit more entertainment than might otherwise be expected in a 56-0 thrashing of Purdue over the weekend as the Buckeyes seemingly took turns trying to top each other. But there was only so much that could actually be gained by what amounted to a back-and-forth battle between defensive and offensive units that weren’t even facing each other, and it turns out the same thing will be on the line this week when Ohio State doesn’t even have to play.
As impressive as Ohio State has been lately, the only thing that will ultimately allow it to climb higher than No. 4 in the BCS standings and potentially into position to play for a national title is a couple teams dropping from the ranks of the unbeaten. And while the Buckeyes won’t be in the spotlight themselves during their second bye of the season, the marquee matchups elsewhere this week certainly have the potential to thrust them directly on to center stage when they do return to action.
“I’ve got to make sure that’s not something we discuss,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “We talk about playing for championships in November, and that’s what we’re doing. The goal for this team is to come back faster and stronger than they went into the bye week.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re not worried about anything like that. That’s the unfortunate thing about bye weeks. You let guys go for the weekends and they start hearing, with all due respect, stuff like that.”
As long as the Buckeyes keep winning, that conversation is only going to get louder. And the volume could be cranked up to the highest level of Meyer’s tenure with the program depending on what happens in a pair of primetime games on Thursday and another on Saturday.
Baylor, currently trailing the Buckeyes in the BCS equation, faces its first stiff test of the year against Oklahoma with a chance to potentially start leaping teams ahead of it or drift out of the title picture.
Oregon and Stanford, currently making a Pac-12 sandwich with Ohio State providing the protein, battle each other with massive national implications. The Ducks are unbeaten, but like the rest of the perfect teams considering the logjam at the top, can’t afford to drop a game. Stanford has already lost once, and another would dash what is left of its hopes of raising the crystal football.
And then on Saturday, two-time defending champion Alabama will take on LSU in what promises to be a physical affair that should reveal plenty about whether or not its capable of playing for a third title in a row.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes can do little but watch and wait.
This week, there’s not even a chance for them to to try to gauge how their defense stacks up against their offense, like it did when they staged an unannounced, unofficial battle to see which unit could score quicker against Purdue.
That decision went to a draw, with the defense turning an interception into a touchdown on the second play of the game and the offense throwing a touchdown on its second snap when it finally got a turn.
Collectively, both units are playing at the highest level of the season, seemingly getting stronger ever week. A defense that had been publicly questioned by Meyer a few times has ramped up its pass rush, snagged an interception in every game this season and has only allowed one touchdown in a competitive situation in the last nine quarters. The offense has a healthy Braxton Miller carving up opponents through the air and on the ground, Carlos Hyde rushing for more than 100 yards per game and a dynamic group of receivers making it almost impossible to defend the spread attack.
And while the Buckeyes have done everything they can to make sure the rest of the nation has taken notice, there’s still a limit to what they can do on their own. So, as dominant as they’ve been on the field lately, the best chance to make a move might actually come when they’re not even on it.
“To be honest with you, I think we’ve just been going out there trying to get the wins,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “At the end of the day, all the rest is going to solve itself. We’re just going out there trying to win, and whatever the voters feel like they need to do, that’s what they’re going to do.
“But the thing is, we’re just winning impressive right now.”
It is all out of their hands this week, but the Buckeyes might have a chance to be big winners again -- even on a bye.