THE OHIO State Buckeyes, who will play the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday, are one of three teams that mathematically could win the Big Ten Leaders Division championship for the right to play in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 6.
Regardless of how you look at it, the chase is on.
Other teams that could mathematically win the division are Wisconsin and Indiana so wins and losses are especially meaningful as the end of the season nears.
Then, too, OSU could have a chance to play for the national title.
The Buckeye faithful are hopeful that OSU will continue the nation's longest winning streak now standing at 21 games. They are one win away from tying the longest winning streak in school history, and that was when teams coached by legendary Woody Hayes won 22 consecutive games between 1967-69.
The Illini's record this season is 3-6 and 0-5 in the Big Ten. Their wins were against Southern Illinois, 42-34; Cincinnati, 45-17; and Miami (Ohio), 50-14, while the losses were against Washington, 34-24; Nebraska, 39-19; Wisconsin, 56-32; Michigan State, 42-3; Penn State, 24-17 in overtime; and Indiana, 52-35.
OSU head football coach Urban Meyer probably never aspired to be a weatherman, but he pays attention to weather conditions on game day, according to a discussion at this week's press conference.
In addition to scouting opponents, Meyer said he spends a lot of advance work on game conditions, adding that it is forecast to be 50 degrees Saturday. He obtains a forecast every day, "exactly what we're expecting weather-wise for that game. That's a big part of every week."
The last time OSU quarterback Braxton Miller played in Illinois, he completed one pass to Jake Stoneburner. Meyer was asked how much further Miller was along now and whether the coach had to prepare two game plans since it isn't known what the wind's going to be like that day.
"It's been a while since I've been there," said Meyer. "I think many times you play in this part of the country that you have to be prepared for that. I can assure you that we're in a much different place than he (Miller) was two years ago. And I can see that."
The OSU-Illini game is reaching a milestone this week as they'll be playing for the 100th time since the series was initiated in 1902. Leading the series 64-30-4 are the Buckeyes, not including the 2012 win which was vacated.
For the Illini, Saturday's game will be the first of three consecutive rivalry trophy games ending the season.
The trophy at this week's game will be presented to the Buckeyes as the Illibuck goes to the winning school from the previous year, and OSU defeated Illinois, 52-22, in 2012.
It's a tradition that began in 1925, and the Illibuck is a wooden replica of a turtle. On its back are the scores of football games between Ohio State and the University of Illinois.
Actually, the original Illibuck was a live turtle but he died after two years. According to a 1966 article in The Daily Illini, the ceremony occurred as follows: "Two groups of students, one from each school, will meet in the center of the gridiron, shake hands, smoke a peace pipe and drink from a wooden bucket." Then, the winner of the previous year's game is given Illibuck.
A University Libraries blog from OSU points out the turtle was chosen because of its longevity but in ironic twist, the first Illibuck, a snapping turtle purchased in Columbus, suffered from the stress of being passed back and forth between the two universities. He spent his last two years of life, living in various fraternity houses and campus building and once shared space with an alligator in the Natural History building in Champaign.
(Maybe all the stress didn't come from traveling back and forth.)
Illini head football coach Tim Beckman mentioned the three upcoming trophy games for his team, adding, "It all starts out with the Ohio State Buckeyes and we all know what they're all about and the team is rated in the top five in the country in all categories and they're doing an exceptional job, but our seniors are fighting and ready to get back home and play these last two games at Memorial Stadium and continue to move this program forward."
For the Illini, senior linebacker and All-America candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten and ranks 20th in the nation in tackles per game with 9.8 while senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top 25 nationally in completions per game and passing yards per game. Their teammate, sophomore running back Josh Ferguson, is second in the nation in receiving yards per game by a running back.
Beckman, a Berea native,was defensive coordinator for Bowling Green for the 2001 and 2002 seasons when Meyer was head coach.
OHIO STATE has moved from the No. 4 spot to No. 3 in the BCS rankings.
FORMER Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel is gone but his work still benefits OSU. A subhead in a recent column by Frank Moskowitz, publisher of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin was: "But Who Laid the Foundation?'
After a paragraph telling how Meyer is repeatedly praised for his relentless recruiting and his relentless attacking on offense and then agreeing with the praise, Moskowitz noted, ""But it is interesting to note that virtually every contributor on the Ohio State offense who has helped the Buckeyes put together their impressive 21-game winning streak - not to mention a good chunk of the key defensive contributors - was recruited by Jim Tressel."
SATURDAY'S game, which will be televised by ESPN, will begin at noon.
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