Shot at top spot

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's no need for gimmicky, motivational T-shirts.

Ohio State has already added to its wardrobe anyway with division title gear that was waiting in its locker room on Saturday night at Wisconsin.

Urban Meyer won't be dangling the chance to win some hardware or get sized for a ring, either. The trophy case is already assured of a new prize to display, and the Buckeyes guaranteed themselves some jewelry with the thrilling 21-14 win in overtime against the Badgers.

Honestly, Meyer never anticipated needing anything extra to motivate his team for perhaps the most heated rivalry in college football waiting at the end of a schedule that won't include a trip to the postseason, counting on hatred alone to make sure the Buckeyes end his first year on a high note. But with the field of unbeaten teams getting cut in half just hours after his squad survived on the road, suddenly there's the potential for far more than bragging rights to be on the line against Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

And now Meyer is ready to start having a conversation about perfection.

"We can talk about it now," Meyer said during his news conference Saturday night. "I kind of put a muzzle on everybody before. But our players won a ring tonight, they're going to get a ring. They're champions of their side, which is really at the end of the day when you keep score, you want to go be a champion -- and our guys did.

"But that's all put on the shelf for a while for this one game."

If simply beating a rival is still the top motivator, there's no shortage of benefits that might come with it for the Buckeyes at this point.

The goal of an undefeated season is now well within reach. There's a chance to build even more momentum in terms of recruiting and program-building with one more victory. And now, almost improbably given some less-than-impressive performances along the way and the logjam of undefeated teams that had been standing in the way before the last couple of weeks, it's realistic to think the Buckeyes could at least make a case for a split national championship if they run the table and, in the process, impress enough voters in The Associate Press poll -- where they're currently No. 4.

There are still some hurdles in the way there for a number of reasons, from the struggles of the Big Ten and the postseason ban that both seem to have dragged down votes for the Buckeyes to the fact they just won't get to play any more games after The Game. But one thing Ohio State has done all season is keep its focus only on what it can control, and so far that approach has worked 11 times.

"We have a saying, and I just shared it with the team -- a team that refuses to be beat won't be beat," Meyer said. "That was a great win, but we've still got work to do.

"This [rivalry] is all I ever knew growing up, eight of our nine coaches are from the state of Ohio and there's a lot of players in there that have already experienced it. I hear them talking about, and they were doing everything they could not to talk about it. You talk about rivalries, this is a great game against a very good [Wisconsin] team that has been to the Rose Bowl a bunch, but this is not our rival. The next one is."

Beating the Wolverines was always going to be incentive enough for the Buckeyes, and that doesn't appear to have changed.

If it's possible, though, the stakes are even higher now for a program that has seemingly played with a chip on its shoulder all season that it prefers not to talk about. And if the Buckeyes truly do feel unappreciated as the quest for perfection has rolled on, that's at least one discussion that will have to wait.

"That's a question," linebacker Zach Boren said, "we'll answer after the Team Up North game."

It's finally here.