COLUMBUS, Ohio — One. More. Saturday.
Did you tune out the last five weeks because of boredom with Ohio State’s level of competition? Welcome back to the party.
Were you closely monitoring the progress over each of those weeks because the season is too short and every game matters? Thanks for the patience.
Mix between the two? Understandable, because this month-and-a-half stretch of tuneups and experimentation was always going to require a different perspective than simply counting up wins.
Urban Meyer has acknowledged it. The players have hinted at it. Certainly a fan base that is both looking for validation of what it has seen recently and hoping for revenge has been sneaking peeks ahead at Oct. 28, as well.
Once this pesky bye week is in the rearview mirror, the matchup everybody around the program has been waiting for will finally be here: Penn State is officially on deck.
“We know what’s coming next,” Meyer said. “It’s very clear. The conversation was had … we’re coming back to work to get ready for a big one.”
“This is a good time to be cooking. It’s also a good time to get a bye week and get these guys fresh. We’re still finalizing how we’re going to do the bye week. But we are very well aware of what’s coming down the pipe here.”
There’s still a little more waiting in store for the Buckeyes before that top-10 showdown at the Horseshoe, of course. But what’s one more weekend at this point?
Ohio State has already proven it can make the most of its preparation time based on how it’s approached what amounted to a five-game warmup before the Nittany Lions arrived. Given the dramatic talent advantage of paper in each of those matchups, it would have been really tempting to get complacent and maybe turn in a couple shaky performances.
Instead, the Buckeyes turned all of them into blowouts, which probably shouldn’t just be dismissed as meaningless since it’s not as easy to do as it might seem. Just think back to a few of the slogs by the supremely talented 2015 squad and the appreciation level for what Ohio State has been doing recently is bound to rise.
“I feel like we’re a good team because I like our practice habits,” Meyer said. “I like the clean living that we have, I like the fact that we just have good guys. I mean, this is a good football team.
“How good? We’re going to find out down this stretch run.”
The back end of the schedule is loaded with challenges, and November might be even tougher than originally expected with Michigan State apparently back on solid footing this season. There is a road trip and likely another evening kickoff looming at Iowa. As always, The Game is waiting at the end of the regular season and the latest chapter in the storied rivalry will be at the Big House.
But all of that is secondary to the Nittany Lions, and not solely because it’s the next game on the schedule. Ohio State’s bid for a Big Ten title slipped away thanks to some special-teams blunders at Penn State a year ago, putting retribution on the table this time around. With so much talent returning, the offseason discussion about the league’s best hopes for winning a national championship always revolved around these two programs on top of the rugged East Division, and the stakes should be enormous next week.
Of course, that’s not a certainty yet. While the Buckeyes prop their feet up this weekend, resting and trying to get as healthy as possible, the Nittany Lions have to get past Michigan first in what promises to be a physical battle. Ohio State has made it well known that it will be watching, which should make that one final Saturday as useful for them as the last five.
“We still have a lot to prepare for,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “But we’re definitely playing at a high level, so that should be a fun one.”
The wait for it, mercifully, is almost over.