COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The players walked out of a tunnel on the other side of the country and marveled at the crowd.
Life on the road isn't so bad when a program remembers to pack a bunch of fans to tag along.
Ohio State has never lacked for support from one of the largest fan bases in the nation, but that doesn't make it any less impressive or meaningful when the team takes the field far away from the Horseshoe and still finds about half of the stadium wearing scarlet and gray, as it did last month at California. And while unbeaten, 16th-ranked Northwestern should be much less welcoming on Saturday night for one of its biggest home games in the modern era, the Buckeyes still figure to have plenty of support from their not-so-secret weapon in a prime time showdown.
"Especially on the road, we understand that people are going to be [fired up], it’s going to be a hostile environment," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I think to a certain point we kind of like that. Obviously we like playing in front of our fans, but I mean, playing against Cal, we had half the stadium. Ohio State travels very well with their fans, and we love that.
"Even last year, I don’t think there was a single game where guys had a hard time ... really getting up for the game. In a way, I think we almost have more energy for away games because we understand people are trying to beat us, and they feel like that’s their opportunity."
The Wildcats have a huge chance to make a statement about where they stand in the Big Ten picture, and potentially the national showcase could put them in the hunt for something even bigger if they can end Ohio State's 17-game winning streak and overcome a history of struggling at home against the conference powerhouse.
Aside from their traditional success in a series they lead 59-14-1 overall against the Wildcats, the Buckeyes have also turned in some of their best performances under second-year coach Urban Meyer away from home, including the explosive offensive performance last month at Cal with backup quarterback Kenny Guiton leading a 52-point outburst.
The Buckeyes closed ranks before an early-season trip to Michigan State last year, and the pregame meetings before a physically taxing 17-16 win were later pointed to as the turning point for a team that wouldn't drop a game all year. They'd later go on to cruise as a visitor at Penn State, survived a late rally in front of a largely pro-Ohio State crowd at Indiana and capped their road slate with a gritty overtime win over Wisconsin.
And while that doesn't mean the Buckeyes are willing to walk away from their decided home-field advantage on a weekly basis, their fans have had a way of making them feel comfortable no matter where they play.
"It kind of felt like a home game," wide receiver Philly Brown said. "We went out to the stadium [at Cal] and Buckeye Nation represented like no other."
The players could certainly use the company again this weekend at a venue that has rarely been unkind to the Buckeyes.