Programs like Ohio State are like Air Force One: They're never supposed to disappear from the radar screen.
There are several places in college football where the national spotlight fixates, and Ohio Stadium is one. When Urban Meyer is prowling the sidelines, the glare is even brighter.
But Ohio State has been somewhat of a forgotten team since 11:54 p.m. ET on Sept. 6. That's the moment when Virginia Tech completed a 35-21 win against the Buckeyes in Columbus.
It wasn't just the shock of the loss or that it marked Ohio State's third defeat in four games after a 24-0 start under Meyer. It was that Ohio State fulfilled the doom-and-gloom outlook many had after quarterback Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury in August.
The Buckeyes stalled against Bud Foster's complex, aggressive defense. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, making his first home start, completed 9 of 29 pass attempts with three interceptions and a touchdown. An offensive line featuring four new starters surrendered seven sacks, and the Buckeyes averaged just 2.7 yards per rush. The supposedly upgraded defense showed the same old warts against the pass and especially on third down (9 of 17 converted).
It was one of those worst-fears-fulfilled kinds of nights. The loss, while surprising, followed a narrative many had mapped out the moment Miller's labrum tore during an innocuous throw in practice.
So Ohio State became a forgotten team nationally and, to a degree, in the Big Ten -- as crazy as that sounds.
Well, it's time to take notice again. No Big Ten team is playing better than No. 13 Ohio State. And few quarterbacks nationally are playing better than Barrett.
Since the Virginia Tech loss, the Buckeyes' numbers are staggering. They've outscored their opponents 224-69. They set a team record with four consecutive games of 50 or more points and tied a team mark with four straight games of 500 or more yards.
Barrett's four-game line: 1,170 pass yards, 17 touchdowns, one interception (none in the past three games), 68.3 percent completions, 263 rush yards, three touchdowns.
"He's throwing it on time, throwing it early, trusting what he sees, directing traffic, going through his progressions, not getting freaked out with a little pressure," offensive coordinator Tom Herman recently told me.
He has accounted for at least four touchdowns in all four games, the longest active streak in the country and the longest for a Big Ten quarterback since former Purdue star Kyle Orton in 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner once again worked his magic, simplifying things so a group that looked like a liability in Week 2 has become a strength.
"Until you understand Algebra 1, you can't take Algebra 2," Warinner told me. "You just have to be patient and trust that playing hard and having good fundamentals will carry you through. Eventually, you can build on that with your changeups, your exceptions, your adjustments.
"People get caught up in thinking, 'I'm a really good coach. I've got these guys who never played and look at all this stuff I told them.' And you don't get anything done."
Ohio State also is getting it done on defense during the win streak: 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, eight interceptions. The Buckeyes held both Maryland and Rutgers well below their averages for yards and points. They suddenly rank in the top 25 nationally in points allowed (24th), opponent adjusted QBR (21st), pass yards allowed (16th) and first downs allowed (20th).
"We're playing at a pretty high level right now," Meyer said of his defense.
But what about the competition? Ohio State hasn't beaten a ranked team during its run. Unlike teams in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, the Buckeyes' schedule has allowed them to regain their mojo. But you play who you play, and Ohio State has destroyed everything in its path.
It's all pointing to the Nov. 8 showdown at No. 8 Michigan State, which hasn't lost at home since 2012. Both teams won 56-17 on Saturday, but Ohio State seems to be playing at a higher level. The Buckeyes are No. 5 nationally in ESPN's Football Power Index, which measures team strength as a future predictor.
According to FPI, Ohio State has a 48.5 percent chance to win the Big Ten, the third-highest percentage of any Power 5 team and by far the highest percentage in the league, as defending champion Michigan State has just a 23.7 percent chance. Yes, we all know FPI has never been high on the Spartans, who remain the team to beat in this league until proved otherwise.
But the numbers favor Ohio State, which, according to FPI, is the one-loss team from a Power 5 conference with the best chance (27 percent) to finish with just the sole blemish.
So everyone must pay attention to the Buckeyes again, including the playoff selection committee. Virginia Tech is a bad loss that seems to be getting worse. But the circumstances surrounding Ohio State with Miller's injury should be considered, if the committee members stay true to their word.
Ohio State has few résumé-boosting opportunities left: trips to Michigan State and Minnesota, and the Big Ten title game.
But if the Buckeyes continue on this trajectory, they should be in a familiar spot: playing for championships.