COLUMBUS — Ohio State was hoping to prepare for a major bowl game. Just not this one.
A loss in last week’s Big Ten title game to Michigan State ended the Buckeyes’ 23-game winning streak and extinguished their chances of playing for a national championship.
Now they must pick up the pieces and make the best of what’s left, preparing for Clemson in the Orange Bowl instead of playing for the biggest trophy in the glare of the BCS final.
“Obviously, we’re not going to where we thought we were going or where we wanted to be going, but we’re playing in the Orange Bowl and that’s a big-time bowl game,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “When you start going back to the coulda, woulda, shouldas, that’s poisonous for our team. It’s our job as leaders to look ahead and make sure everybody is doing their business.”
The Buckeyes said on Tuesday that they’re still not quite over the 34-24 loss to the Spartans last Saturday night.
There was so much on the line: A school-record winning streak, the conference crown and almost certainly a spot opposite Florida State in the national championship game.
But that all turned to dust.
“I’m trying to not think about it anymore. I’ve pretty much gotten over it. But it was really hard. I mean, it still gets at me every once in a while. It was really hard for a couple of days,” freshman defensive lineman Joey Bosa said of his first collegiate defeat. “We had an opportunity to go 25-0 and play for the national championship. Obviously, you lose that opportunity, it’s going to make anyone upset.”
As if that weren’t enough to overcome, several other Buckeyes have their futures on their minds.
Two important underclassmen are at least looking into the possibility of jumping into the NFL draft early next spring: Quarterback Braxton Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier. They will likely file the paperwork to get an evaluation from NFL scouts to better judge where they might be taken in the draft.
“I’m just going to talk it over with my family and the coaches,” said Shazier, a first-team All-Big Ten choice. “(I’ll) try to get the best analysis I can so when I do make my decision it’ll be the best for me.”
Redshirt junior cornerback Bradley Roby has already decided he’ll head for the pros.
At the moment Shazier said he’s “in the middle” in terms of whether he’ll stay or take the money and run.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
Most of his teammates haven’t known what to do to ease the ache they’ve felt in the days after a rare loss.
The Buckeyes had gone 12-0 a year ago but were prevented from proving themselves on a bigger stage due to NCAA sanctions.
Then they rolled through the current season — until their game in Indianapolis on Saturday. Some had almost forgotten what it was like to lose a game.
“It’s definitely a weird feeling just because it hadn’t been experienced around here in so long,” tight end Jeff Heuerman said.
“There’s still a little bit of a sting, but you’ve got to keep moving. It’s part of the game. We’ve got a big one coming up, so we have to keep moving forward.”
Coach Urban Meyer had not lost in his tenure at Ohio State. He said defeat affects each player differently.
“The more invested the team, the individual, the harder you take it,” he said. “Those not invested, it’s just another day at the office. Those who are extremely invested, you have to recover and you have to take some time.”
So, sooner or later, the focus must shift. To South Beach. To warm winds. To Clemson and quarterback Tajh Boyd.
“We’re still playing in a BCS bowl game,” Mewhort said. “After having a national-title game ahead of you and losing it, (a lesser bowl) may seem trivial. But guys need to realize that this is ... going to be a big one.”