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Buckeyes might still be Big Ten favorites

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Penn State is part of the national title picture, Michigan State has backed up its preseason hype and Northwestern has shocked everyone with a 5-0 start.

But the favorite to win the Big Ten championship could be the team that claimed that honor in each of the last two seasons. Ohio State might struggle in national showcase games, but in its conference, it continues to pile up big wins.

Few Big Ten victories will be savored more than Saturday night's dramatic 20-17 triumph against No. 18 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The 14th-ranked Buckeyes survived the first of several Big Ten road tests and won their third straight game since the Collapse at the Coliseum.

So, do the consensus Big Ten preseason favorites still hold that title?

"I guess you can say we are," Ohio State running back Chris 'Beanie' Wells said. "We are the defending Big Ten champions. We know it's going to be a tough, tough battle each and every week. We're just preparing ourselves for that.

"I really don't know what it says to whoever or what team."

Ohio State made a statement, even after an all-too familiar start. As they have in several other mega matchups, including the last two BCS title games, Ohio State jumped out to an early lead, only to see it slip away because of turnovers, missed assignments and wasted opportunities.

But this time, Ohio State didn't melt down, twice erasing Wisconsin leads in the second half to win the game.

"You score early and you kind of expect to just keep going," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "And when it doesn't, guys really buckled down and said, 'Hey, forget about the things that happened the play before. The next play is the most important.' The guys really did that tonight."

Laurinaitis noted that road wins against Texas and Washington "catapulted" the Buckeyes to the BCS title game the last two seasons. Their chances of a third consecutive trip are extremely slim, but Saturday night's comeback preserved hope for an unprecedented third consecutive outright Big Ten title.

Ohio State still must travel to Michigan State, Illinois and Northwestern, but it hosts Penn State on Oct. 25 in a game that could decide the league title. It's a taxing stretch, but one that looks a bit easier after the team cleared a huge hurdle at Camp Randall Stadium.

"It does give them confidence that you keep grinding it and keep trying and keep hanging in there and don't let the adversity get you down that, you know, sometimes good things happen," head coach Jim Tressel said. "I didn't see any quit in them. I didn't see any big eyeballs like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is loud and we're in trouble.'

"They played as hard as they could, and we were fortunate."