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Ohio State eyes playoff race, Big Ten title game appearance

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Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (right) hugs sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott after the Buckeyes' 31-24 win against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis.  Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (right) hugs sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott after the Buckeyes’ 31-24 win against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

“Beat Indiana.”

Those are the first words Urban Meyer spoke when the topic of the College Football Playoff rankings came up Wednesday evening, but the Ohio State coach recognized that everyone knows the Buckeyes have moved up to No. 6 in the poll.

Meyer said he addresses the national landscape with his team on Sundays, but stressed that continued preparation for the next opponent is of the utmost importance.

“I haven’t talked to ‘em since I guess it came out Tuesday night,” he said. “You’ve just got to take care of business and play hard and practice well.”

OSU’s rise in the rankings — the team was No. 14 two weeks ago — comes on the heels of consecutive road game wins against then-No. 8 Michigan State and No. 25 Minnesota. Meyer said those two wins were key to the Buckeyes’ rise, and the College Football Playoff panel took notice.

“Back-to-back road wins against top-25 teams,” he said. “That’s significant.”

Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman agreed with his coach that the ranking is important, saying “it’s big” that OSU has worked its way back into the national picture.

“There’s probably six, seven teams who really are still in it,” Heuerman said Wednesday. “Still have a legitimate shot at making that top four. That’s what you worked all offseason for, so you’re right in the heat of it right now. So it’s special.”

But with two regular season games remaining on the schedule, and a potential shot at a Big Ten Championship on their minds, the Buckeyes have work to do to put themselves in the top four. Either an OSU win or a Michigan State loss would book the Buckeyes a ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 6, but a loss against Indiana, Michigan or in the title game would likely remove OSU from any national championship conversation.

Heuerman said the rankings don’t mean anything if the team can’t continue its winning ways.

“Obviously we gotta finish out the season strong,” he said. “Otherwise it doesn’t matter. So you gotta take care of business these next two games and hopefully a third game and go from there.”

Meyer has stressed throughout the season that OSU’s main goal is to “compete for championships in November,” and the team will have that chance if it can win just one more game.

With their goal just a step away, junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said the Buckeyes have to keep up the intensity as the season winds down, not only to compete for a conference championship, but to insert themselves into the first-ever College Football Playoff.

“We all have a goal and that’s to get to that Big Ten title game and get into the top four,” Washington said Wednesday. “Right now, we’re No. 6 so you can’t slow down, you gotta keep going.”

While those on the team have kept their confidence, OSU’s early season loss to Virginia Tech at home put a dent in its playoff hopes. Since then, the Buckeyes have slowly worked their way into the conversation for the top four, but debuted at just No. 16 in the first playoff poll three weeks ago.

The Buckeyes then moved up to No. 14 after a 55-14 win against Illinois on Nov. 1, and rocketed up eight more spots after topping the Spartans and Golden Gophers in consecutive weeks.

Heuerman said the rise in the rankings — starting before the Michigan State matchup — has helped the Buckeyes settle into what he said they call “the new normal.” He said the mindset of the team has changed, and everyone has raised up the intensity to do what they can to make reach their goals.

“You’re back in the conversation,” Heuerman said. “Before that Michigan State game you really weren’t, so that week of preparation and execution that weekend, it kind of put us back into things.

“So when it kind of put us back into things, we kinda had to amp everything back up and really get this thing going. And make sure we finish where we want to finish.”

Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett — who has moved into the Heisman Trophy conversation as the Buckeyes have climbed the rankings — said OSU has been able to do the main things needed to move back into the national picture.

“It’s about getting better each and every week and winning games,” Barrett said Wednesday. “And I feel like we’re doing that at Ohio State.”

With two games currently on the schedule and a No. 6 ranking in tow, sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa said Wednesday that the Buckeyes recognize what their standing means going forward.

“That we’re two steps away from being in it all,” Bosa said.

OSU’s next step toward a potential playoff appearance is set to come on Saturday against Indiana at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.

 

One comment

  1. Let’s go, Bucks!

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