The celebration is over for Ohio State.
A day after the Buckeyes decimated Michigan 62-39 on Saturday, Urban Meyer had already turned his attention to Ohio State’s Big Ten championship game against with Northwestern. And nothing but that.
Already, the debate has begun about the Buckeyes’ worthiness for the College Football Playoff. Meyer knows that any chatter is meaningless if the Buckeyes (11-1) don’t beat Northwestern (8-4). That the Buckeyes might need an impressive win to sway the CFP selection committee is of “zero” concern, Meyer said Sunday during a teleconference.
“We’re going to try to win the Big Ten championship,” he said.
Meyer said he had met with his staff and planned to meet with team leaders about the need to have the same focus and energy that it had in preparing for Michigan. He said he learned from working under Lou Holtz at Notre Dame that the time to buck up players is after a loss, but the time to be “over-the-top demanding of them” is after a big win to prevent a letdown.
“I’m going to be really hard on everybody this week,” Meyer said. “We cannot see anything other than the same effort we gave last week.”
The offensive line was the key to Saturday’s rout, but right guard Demetrius Knox was injured late in the game. Meyer said it was a Lisfranc injury, which likely will end the fifth-year senior’s Buckeye career.
The Lisfranc joint is at the point in which the metatarsal bones that lead to the toes connects with the tarsal bones in the foot’s arch. A Lisfranc injury can be a sprain, fracture or dislocation.
“He’s done so much for this team in his career here,” Meyer said. “It’s a tough loss for us. We have to regroup.”
Wyatt Davis, a redshirt freshman from California, will replace Knox, Meyer said. Davis has impressed in recent weeks and has seen increasing action, especially in goal-line situations.
The Buckeyes are a 14-point favorite to beat Northwestern. The Wildcats lost all three nonconference games, including one to Akron, before rebounding to win all six games against Big Ten West opponents. Northwestern led Michigan 17-0 before losing 20-17.
The Wildcats aren’t flashy, and they’ve played better as an underdog than as a favorite. Northwestern, which once was a longtime Big Ten doormat, is making its first appearance in the conference title game.
“We’re honored to lead the purple to Indianapolis,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It’s a big deal for us. To win the West, it’s a hurdle we hadn’t gotten over.”
Asked what concerned him about Ohio State, Fitzgerald replied, with a laugh, “Everything.”
Northwestern clinched the Big Ten West two weeks ago, so he spent one week studying video of Michigan and the next watching Ohio State.
“After I got done watching Michigan, I’m like, ‘Man, I hope we don’t play these guys,’” Fitzgerald said. “Then after I got done watching Ohio State, I’m like, ‘I hope we don’t play these guys.”
Against Michigan, the Buckeyes finally looked like the dominant team many expected them to be all season. If Alabama defeats Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game, Ohio State and Oklahoma likely will be competing for the fourth playoff spot. The Sooners play Texas in the Big 12 championship game.
Meyer has lobbied for the team’s inclusion in years past after winning the conference title. Asked if he believes the Buckeyes are now playing at a playoff or national-championship level, Meyer replied, “I don’t think we are yet. Certain parts of our team certainly are, and certain parts are not. But there’s probably other teams in that same boat.”
All the Buckeyes can control for now is what happens Saturday.
“When you start using terms like national championship and playoffs, that’s very rare air,” Meyer said. “That’s why we have a job to do, and that’s to get ready for our Tuesday practice and go win the Big Ten championship and worry about that down the road.”