By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — The giant video screen in Ohio State’s indoor practice facility ran a loop of MMA fighters beating each other senseless, coach Urban Meyer’s way of reminding players that they have one swing to knock out Michigan State this week and keep their championship dreams alive.
With all the playoff talk swirling after a seismic college football Saturday, that saw three teams ranked higher than the Buckeyes lose and an odd tiebreaker situation that could see them advancing to the playoff without even playing in the Big Ten Championship game, the idea is to shut out the noise and keep the team focused on the immediate task.
Meyer said it’s difficult to keep players from looking ahead and worrying about things that are out of their control. Ever since the Oct. 22 loss at Penn State, schedule boards in the football complex were covered up and the program renewed its focus on just winning the next game.
“I’m debating right now what to do with that,” Meyer said Monday when asked about the amped-up playoff chatter. “I did not cover it yesterday. I haven’t covered it throughout the year. In the past I have. I don’t know yet. But the focus is obviously Michigan State.”
It may help that there is a revenge element when it comes to the Spartans, although that angle was mostly downplayed by players on Monday. But remember, it was Michigan State that came into Ohio Stadium last year and ended the Buckeyes’ chances of repeating as Big Ten and national champions .
“There’s a little bit of human element that comes into the game, especially with them ruining senior night for us last year and ruining the season we were supposed to have last year,” guard Billy Price acknowledged. “It’s in the back of your head, absolutely.”
Like last year, the championship hopes of no. 2 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten, no. 5 CFP) will be erased with a loss to Michigan State (3-7, 1-6), a program that has fallen on hard times this season.
“They always have a chip on their shoulder when the Buckeyes are in town, and it’s going to be the same way this Saturday,” Ohio State center Pat Elflein said. “The records don’t matter.”
Because of the loss to Penn State, and Michigan’s loss at Iowa on Saturday, Ohio State could be kept out of the conference title game by the tiebreaker system , even if the Buckeyes beat Michigan State and then Michigan on Nov. 26. Then the question becomes if the playoff committee will install Ohio State in the top four without a conference championship on its resume.
At least one player said what many people around college football likely are thinking.
“I see it like this: If we win out all our games, Big Ten championship or not, you not going to put us in?” quarterback J.T. Barrett said incredulously. “Like you’re going to leave Ohio State out? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
NEVER MICHIGAN: Buckeyes fans were put in the distasteful position of needing Michigan to beat Iowa.
If Michigan had won, and Ohio State took care of business against Michigan State and Michigan, that would have given Ohio State the East Division crown in the tiebreaker and a spot in the conference championship game. As it stands now, Penn State will win the tiebreaker if the Nittany Lions win out.
But Buckeyes players weren’t rooting for Michigan. That’s just never going to happen.
“No, not at all,” Price said.
“No, I don’t root for them,” linebacker Raekwon McMillan said.
“You don’t ever want to root for those guys,” Elflein said.