In Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer’s three seasons in Columbus, the team has achieved 31 victories — not one of which came against a team ranked inside the top 15.
If OSU (7-1, 4-0) wants to achieve that first “signature” victory, its best — and possibly only — shot this year is set to come on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., when it takes on No. 7 Michigan State (7-1, 4-0).
“I think (the players) know that already … this is a game to get the respect that Ohio State deserves and has had in the past,” Meyer said Monday. “You have to go compete and win this game and it’s going to be a task. But that’s real.”
The Spartans are currently the only top-25 team sitting on OSU’s schedule.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said he understands the importance of grabbing that signature victory when it comes to regaining national respect and improving OSU’s postseason résumé.
“I think people for the past three years have said that we have just beaten up on teams (that) aren’t good or whatever they say, and that when it comes down to it, we can’t win a big game,” Bennett said Monday.
“I just think that’s the hype around Ohio State, is that we don’t win big games, but it’s important to win this game because they’re a great opponent, and if you want postseason dreams, you’ve got to keep winning.”
OSU had a chance to shake that stigma last season against the then-No. 10 Spartans in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. However, the Buckeyes were unable to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead, as MSU took them down to win the Big Ten title, 34-24.
The Buckeyes then had a second chance to topple a top-15 team in the Orange Bowl, when they took on then-No. 12 Clemson. Again, however, the Buckeyes let a fourth quarter lead slip away as they fell, 40-35.
“I think we’re lacking one (a signature win) a little bit, and that win (against Michigan State) would mean a lot,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said Monday. “It would be great for our goal. Since I’ve been here, we haven’t won a Big Ten Championship and I know that we’d like to do that, so to be able to go up there and win would obviously do a lot for that.”
The highest-ranked team that OSU has defeated with Meyer at the helm was then-No. 16 Northwestern last season. The best ranking a team that OSU defeated has ranked at the end of the season under Meyer was No. 24 after the Buckeyes beat then-No.20 Michigan two seasons ago and the Wolverines fell for spots in the poll to end the season.
However, tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said he does not believe that OSU will be intimidated by the tough opponent.
“The thing is, when you come to Ohio State University, is there any reason you don’t want to play in these kind of games?” Hinton asked. “You sign up for this. And this is what it’s all about. National TV, prime time and all that kind of stuff and getting an opportunity to play a great opponent and a Big Ten opponent and all those things are exactly why you signed up to come to Ohio State.”
Bennett said that being the underdog against a top-10 team is something that his teammates aren’t shying away from.
“I think we like it,” Bennett said. “This team is interesting to me because for the first time since I’ve been here, except for maybe my sophomore year, guys have really relished being looked at as overrated, or whatever it is. We’re here to prove something, we’re here to show that we’re a complete team, and it doesn’t really matter where people rank us.”
Perry agreed that being the lower-ranked team on the road could actually end up helping with the team’s focus and intensity.
“It feels good to be an underdog sometimes, because then a lot of people are looking at you and trying to see what you can do in that scenario,” Perry said. “A lot of the training we do here, you’re in a scenario where you either go or you don’t, so this is going to be a good one for us.”
Bennett said the team’s motivating factor in beating its top-10 opponent is not shaking the national perception of the team, but rather winning each game as it comes.
“It’s not about making sure everybody loves us in the country or respects us in the country, it’s about winning games and making sure that we have a chance to go where we want to go in the postseason,” Bennett said. “This game is just important for that because it’s the next game, and we have to win because they’re a good opponent.”
OSU’s game against Michigan State is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. Saturday.