Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Urban Meyer might’ve sized up Ohio State football’s season in a sentence.
“At times, we’re really good,” the Buckeyes coach said. “At other times, we’re not.”
In a year highlighted with triumphs against Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State, the Buckeyes have often looked the part of their No. 6 national ranking.
Rather bewildering, sloppy melees against perceived-to-be inferior competition in contests against the likes of Purdue, Indiana, California, Central Florida and Alabama-Birmingham often has, convincingly, suggested otherwise.
At an impressive 9-0, it’s hard to look at the Buckeyes one way or the other without remaining cognizant of the juxtaposition between an OSU team playing in the spotlight and when it’s not.
Buckeye cornerback Bradley Roby said it’s a matter that’s been addressed.
“I mean, that’s just all mental mistakes that you have to fix,” the redshirt sophomore said. “You have to play (at a) high level every week. You see Alabama, they don’t care who they play against, they play at a high level.
“That’s the (kind of) teams that we think that we’re at the same level with, so we have to play dominant like them … we have to come out and dominate from the very beginning.”
An argument could certainly be made that the Crimson Tide – college football’s defending national champions – are playing at a higher level than the Buckeyes.
But here Meyer and OSU are, undefeated nine games into his first season at the helm in Columbus and off to the program’s best start since 2007.
Regardless of a game-to-game ebb and flow this year, OSU has found ways to win the types of games it probably would’ve collapsed in 2011.
At 9-0, Meyer might have the Buckeyes back to believing they can win again.
Which is all Buckeye Nation can ask for, right?
While the former Florida coach has successfully and effectively navigated OSU this far, his squad has yet to put together a win since its opener against Miami (Ohio) where they’ve blown out their competition.
A place like OSU, Roby said, demands more.
“That’s typical for Ohio State football,” he said “and we haven’t done that yet this year.”
Roby and the Buckeyes, though, might have a chance to do that against a struggling Illinois team (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“That’s something we kinda want to do this game coming up,” Roby said.
The Thorpe Award semifinalist, though, said they’re not taking the Illini lightly.
History suggests they shouldn’t, either.
Despite their 0-3 record on the road in coach Tim Beckman’s first season in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois has won three of the last five meetings in Columbus (1999, 2001, 2007).
Maybe more ironic is the fact the Illini snapped the Buckeyes’ 10-0 start in 2007 with a 28-21 toppling of the then-ranked No. 1 team in the nation.
Now, nearly five years later, Illinois finds itself again in a position to thwart this OSU team’s attempt to match that record for the first time since.
“I think they’re very dangerous,” Meyer said Wednesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “I think Illinois’ got every bit as much talent as we do.”
Meyer said if the Buckeyes execute and “find a way” to win, they should be okay.
And while that concept might not be astrophysics, it could be the difference between OSU putting together what some might call a complete game, compared to contests where they stumbled out of the gate.
If anything, though, Meyer said Illinois might be another look in the mirror, another gut check, another chance to see what the Buckeyes are and what they’re not.
“Here’s the thing: how good are we? That’s the question we’re asking ourselves,” Meyer said.
Good enough to be 9-0? Their record speaks for itself.
Good enough to be 10-0?
Roby said the Buckeyes aren’t succumbing to the weight of such a feat.
“Nah, no pressure. No pressure,” he said. “We feel like we can win every game, we said it at the beginning of the season, so why not? Why give up? Why stop right now?”
Kickoff for OSU’s second-to-last home tilt of the season against the Illini is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.