November is Ohio State's time to shine

Ohio State doesn't control what happens in the Big Ten title race right now.

Like the other three Big Ten teams with one conference loss, the Buckeyes have little to no margin for error the rest of the way. And while winning is great, winning impressively is even better as Ohio State's ranking in the final BCS standings could determine whether it returns to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.

Might Ohio State's reign atop the Big Ten be coming to a close? Don't bet on it.

November is the Buckeyes' time to shine. They've proven it time and again during Jim Tressel's tenure as head coach.

Ohio State's Big Ten dominance is directly tied to its success this month, and if the Buckeyes' amazing run ends, it likely will be because of a November stumble.

Here are the particulars:

  • Ohio State is 26-4 in November games in Tressel's previous nine seasons as coach

  • The Buckeyes are 15-1 in their past 16 November games, with the lone loss coming against unranked Illinois in 2007

  • Ohio State has swept its November slate five times under Tressel, including in each of the last two seasons

  • The Buckeyes haven't lost to a ranked team in November since their last loss to archrival Michigan, on Nov. 22, 2003

If Penn State, Iowa and Michigan aren't concerned yet, consider the fact that Ohio State has won its past two games by a combined score of 101-10. Plus, the Buckeyes had an extra week to prepare for their November schedule, which should help a banged-up defense and get star linebacker Ross Homan back on the field.

"I hope that we get emotionally rested, physically rested," Tressel said last week, "because when Penn State comes in, it's a whole different world. But like anything else, it's where you're investing your time. That open week, what are you thinking about? What are you working on? Are you doing the things that you need to do to get better?

"If you do that, then hopefully it will be a plus for it."

Tressel asked those questions rhetorically, but he knows how to get the desired answers from his players in November. Better than any Big Ten coach in recent memory.

Ohio State on Saturday faces a Penn State team riding a wave of confidence following three consecutive victories. Two weeks later, it hosts a Michigan team that could make its season by ending The Streak.

In between, the Buckeyes visit No. 13 Iowa, which gave them all they could handle last year in Columbus. Iowa still has a shot at the Rose Bowl and will be honoring an outstanding group of seniors, including quarterback Ricky Stanzi, an Ohio native who missed last year's game against the Buckeyes because of injury.

Ohio State has crushed weaker opponents all season, but its two road games against good teams have resulted in a loss to Wisconsin and a lackluster win at Illinois. Aside from one game, Iowa has been flat-out dominant at home.

So it comes to this for the Scarlet and Gray. They need to run the table in November and likely get a little help from Wisconsin in order to reach the Rose Bowl.

Anything less would end Ohio State's run of five consecutive Big Ten championships.

And anything less also would come as a surprise.