COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is a weekly routine for Urban Meyer on the drive home from games on Saturdays.
First the scores of his friends from around the country are rattled off to the Ohio State coach, followed by some updates in the Big Ten and, obviously, what happened to Michigan.
The next day Meyer will brainstorm with his operations coordinator to put together a Top 25 and cast his vote in the coaches' poll.
Neither of those activities involve watching any film or perhaps going any deeper than catching some highlights, and Meyer usually makes it clear during the season that he doesn’t make much of an effort to stay up to date with what’s happening in college football outside of his own program.
But at least once a year an exception has to be made, and Ohio State’s standing in the national race must be addressed. Meyer brushes up on the rankings, takes stock of the conversation about his team in the championship picture and carves out about five minutes for a “state of the union” to clear the air.
Then the Buckeyes move on.
“We do that every year this time of year,” Meyer said. “I just show the [players] rankings and I show the teams, because they’re going to hear it. When you look at it, everything is wide open. College football, this is a pretty open year.
“I know they can hear it, probably walking around campus or watching TV. So why not address it? ... But I don’t want to hear much about it at all after our conversation.”
Thanks to a combination of wild upsets elsewhere and steady progress since an early loss to Virginia Tech last month, the Buckeyes can once again be realistically included in the playoff discussion after seemingly being left for dead.
A team that appeared hamstrung by its youth at quarterback, inexperience on the offensive line and a defense that couldn’t defend the pass has rapidly developed over the past few weeks, and the rest of the pack in the Top 25 has allowed Ohio State to climb back into the mix at the same time it’s gaining confidence.
J.T. Barrett is now playing like a veteran in place of Braxton Miller at quarterback, rewriting the record books and setting a pace with his passing numbers that would exceed even those of his decorated predecessor. The blockers up front have established a rotation and chemistry that has improved the protection for Barrett and opened huge holes for running back Ezekiel Elliott and a handful of other skill players. And while still far from perfect, the pass defense is coming off a game that included four interceptions in a blowout on the road to open Big Ten play.
Ohio State’s loss may still hurt it down the road when the selection committee comes together to pick the four-team field for the College Football Playoff. But in summing up the state of the Buckeyes as it relates to their title chances, two things work in their favor: The loss was outside the league, leaving championship dreams in the Big Ten intact; and just about everybody else has already dropped a game as well.
“I think guys know [the situation],” center Jacoby Boren said. “Stuff got pretty crazy last weekend, but I think our attitude is just that we go out and try to get better every week. We can only control what we can control.
“We’re going to go out and try to win every game and take care of trying to win a Big Ten championship, and after that, we’ll see how things stack up. Hopefully it will work out for us.”
If the Buckeyes did need a progress report, Meyer made a little bit of time for it this week during the off date.
But they shouldn’t expect to hear about it again, and it certainly won’t be part of Meyer’s weekend routine moving forward.