- Austin Ward, College Football
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- First there was a Gatorade bath to survive.
Then came a massive bear hug from senior fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren, who gave so much more than Ohio State ever could have asked for during his final season with the program.
A mass of humanity ready to celebrate the simultaneous capture of a perfect season and rivalry bragging rights pressed in after that, making finding family members for the next hugs a tall order.
After knocking those steps out and belting out a few more celebratory songs in the south end zone over a wild, raucous few minutes on the field at Ohio Stadium, Urban Meyer finally emerged from the crowd and had a moment to himself.
It didn't last long as the Buckeyes coach sneaked under the scarlet awning and up the ramp to the locker room, flanked by three security guards who had watched him cap a perfect season with a 26-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday. But for about 30 seconds, Meyer was alone with his thoughts before a fan wearing a Braxton Miller jersey spoiled it with an unwelcome sprint into what was supposed to be a private tunnel, and that almost certainly wasn't enough time to process what has happened in his first year with the Buckeyes.
"The nut-job students won't let you find anybody," Meyer joked during his 12th victorious news conference of the season. "But to be out on that field was something special.
"Very emotional time, and obviously this is the state I grew up in, the state that I made comment in last November that our objective was to make the great state of Ohio proud. I imagine tonight there are a lot of people in this great state very proud of their football team. ... But to be 12-0, it really hasn't sunk in yet."
Perhaps it won't feel quite as special as it might have if the Buckeyes been eligible to play twice more this season, and maybe there will be a few bittersweet moments in the weeks ahead as one of only two unbeaten teams in the country will have to watch the Big Ten title game and the Bowl Championship Series on television.
But nobody was worrying much about that as the final seconds ticked away and the emotion started pouring out of Meyer and a senior class that returned knowing full well there would be no postseason waiting for them. And while they can potentially make a case for a split national championship with enough first-place votes in The Associated Press poll, they left little doubt which team is truly the best in the conference.
They scratched past the Wolverines behind a stellar defensive effort in the second half and one of Miller's finest passing performances, then enjoyed every last second on the field before leaving it for the final time this season.
"Coach Meyer and I have an unbelievable relationship, and we've come a long way," Boren said. "I remember when he first got here, watching the national championship game from last year in his office, him and I were just sitting there kind of getting emotional thinking about the fact that we can't play in that game this year. Never really thought we'd be 12-0 going into it, and now that's happened, it's kind of even harder.
"But basically out there, we just told each other that we love each other."
The honeymoon between Ohio State and Meyer might only be getting started.
On Wednesday they can officially toast a full year together since Meyer returned both to coaching and to his home state, and they still don't know what's it like to lose as a partnership. And with so many players returning, particularly on offense, there's a good chance the Buckeyes could be celebrating something similar again at this time next season.
And a year from now, the party doesn't necessarily have to stop after taking on Michigan.
"For the moment," Meyer said, "this is as good as it gets."
Ohio State scratched past Michigan behind a stellar defensive effort in the second half, then enjoyed every last second on the field before leaving it for the final time this season.