COLUMBUS – There is no way to predict how a football team will react to a devastating loss. It can go either way.
So, Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State last Saturday has injected another element of uncertainty into its game at Michigan in a rivalry that historically has contained more than a few surprises.
Ohio State hopes to put last Saturday’s loss in the past. But there is no road map that guarantees it will arrive at that destination at noon Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Repeating as national champion was the goal at Ohio State before the loss to Michigan State. Now, it would take a lot of help and several upsets to get the Buckeyes back to the College Football Playoff.
The possibility is real that Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) could lose to Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) and go from being a presumed lock to return to the playoff to being the third-place team in the Big Ten’s East Division in the span of two weeks.
Will that harsh reality motivate the Buckeyes or weigh on them on Saturday?
Two years ago, Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and ended the Buckeyes’ national championship hopes. Then a previously unbeaten OSU team came out and repeated the same mistakes that had been so costly against the Spartans in a loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl in its next game.
But turn the clock back to 1998, when another loss to Michigan State crushed the national title hopes of another Ohio State team, and it was an entirely different story. The week after that loss, OSU fought back fiercely and rolled up 627 yards of offense in a 45-14 redemption win over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
Obviously, Urban Meyer hopes Ohio State reacts like the 1998 team, not the 2013 team.
“Any time you lose a game, maybe they think they’re not playing for what they were playing for before, and that’s not true. There’s a lot of football left to be played,” Meyer said on the Big Ten football coaches teleconference Tuesday.
Defensive end Joey Bosa says Ohio State is faced with a choice after seeing its chance to repeat as national champion probably taken away by the loss to Michigan State.
“There are two ways we can take this loss,” Bosa said. “We could feel sorry for ourselves and not want to come back and lose the rest of the games this season, which none of us want to do. Or we could come back and use it as motivation like we did last year.
“We have no idea what could happen. We could still get a chance to play in the Big Ten championship. Crazier things have happened,” he said.
Ohio State needs to beat Michigan on Saturday and have Penn State upset Michigan State to get back to the Big Ten championship game for a third season in a row.
Some of Bosa’s teammates who are seniors said their approach is to have a narrow focus on beating Michigan for a fourth straight year.
“Nothing would make me feel better than going up there and winning my fourth pair of gold pants in their place,” offensive tackle Taylor Decker said, referring to the award OSU players get for beating Michigan.
“I think getting a win, a big win, is the best way to bounce back and kind of show what this program is about. If we can’t handle a loss and get better from it, what are we doing?” he said.
Defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said, “It would definitely be tough to lose your last two games going out. We come to Ohio State not to lose any games. Losing last Saturday was tough for us and disappointing. But we’re not going to let that happen this weekend.”
Michigan’s only win against Ohio State since 2003 was in 2011 against an OSU team that finished 6-7 with a freshman quarterback, an interim coach and lived through a season full of turmoil, suspensions and uncertainty. Ohio State has won 12 of the last 14 games between the two teams.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.