Ohio State is running out of time to more favorably position itself for the national title game.
While Saturday’s home contest against Indiana should provide the fourth-ranked Buckeyes with a good chance to extend the nation’s longest winning streak, defeating the overmatched Hoosiers probably won’t make a big impression.
Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) will be looking for a school-record 23rd consecutive win as well as its 18th straight over Indiana. But the Buckeyes are still looking up at Alabama and Florida State in the BCS standings.
A win Saturday would clinch the program’s second straight Leaders Division title, though this time they would make their first appearance in the Big Ten championship game after being ineligible last season.
To play for the national title, Ohio State likely needs Alabama or Florida State to lose. Coach Urban Meyer’s team would almost certainly be assured of a chance in next year’s system, which will use a four-team playoff.
“Without spending much time on it, because it’s not fair for our team to do that, I will say this: I think it’s (the BCS) a flawed system,” Meyer said.
If Ohio State doesn’t reach the national title game, it likely won’t be for a lack of trying to garner so-called “style points.” The Buckeyes have totaled 179 points - their most ever in a three-game span - in wins over Penn State, Purdue and Illinois.
The running game has fueled their impressive scoring, with Carlos Hyde totaling 504 yards and six TDs on the ground during that span. He accounted for 246 of the school’s 441 rushing yards in a 60-35 win at Illinois last week.
“We just handed the ball to Carlos or me and we’ve got the best offensive line in the Big Ten or the country,” said quarterback Braxton Miller, who ran for 184 yards - the second-highest total of his career.
The victory wasn’t enough to keep Baylor from usurping Ohio State for No. 3 in the AP poll, however. While Alabama could be knocked off by No. 6 Auburn in two weeks, Baylor trails the Buckeyes by .0013 in the BCS rankings and could jump them with games against Oklahoma State and Texas still remaining.
The Buckeyes’ lone win of note was 31-24 over now-16th-ranked Wisconsin on Sept. 28. Northwestern was ranked 16th entering Ohio State’s 40-30 road win Oct. 5 but has gone 0-6 in conference play.
Ohio State concludes its regular season next week against struggling Michigan but could face No. 13 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
“We have to make sure that our focus is getting better each week instead of the national stuff,” Meyer said. “I think I’m learning a lesson to shut my mouth and quit worrying about this and that.”
After physically dominating an Illini defense that ranks third-to-last against the run, Saturday’s task shouldn’t be much more difficult with Indiana ranking fourth-to-last while surrendering 251.1 rushing yards per game.
The Hoosiers (4-6, 2-4) allowed 554 yards on the ground in last Saturday’s 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, including seven runs of at least 30 yards.
“Outside of youth and ability, it was just missed assignments today,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “Those are things I think are correctable. It’s a young defense but it’s got a long way to go.”
Indiana trails only Ohio State in terms of Big Ten scoring, but the offense was also alarmingly ineffective. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson combined to go 12 of 30 for 122 yards with an interception. The Hoosiers matched a season low with 3.4 yards per carry.
Sudfeld helped threaten the Buckeyes late in last year’s 52-49 loss in Bloomington, throwing for two scores in the final two minutes to cut into an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Hyde and Miller combined for 305 yards on 45 carries as Ohio State racked up 578 yards of offense.
The Hoosiers haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since a 41-7 home victory Oct. 8, 1988. They’ve been outscored 186-44 in their last four road contests against top-five teams.