Ohio State took charter buses back from Michigan on Saturday and arrived at its football facility just as the Alabama-Auburn game was ending.
Players had been watching with interest on their iPads, and the satellite TVs aboard the motorcoaches finally picked up a signal for the first time on the trip when the top-ranked Crimson Tide was getting ready to try a game-winning field goal with one second left.
In one of the wackiest finishes in college football history, Auburn returned the errant kick for a 100-yard touchdown in a 34-28 upset.
Asked about the mood on the bus at that point, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, “It was absolutely nuts for 15 minutes.”
Alabama’s defeat allowed the Buckeyes to climb to second in the BCS standings, putting them on course to play for a national championship against No. 1 Florida State if they can beat Michigan State in the Big Ten title game Saturday.
But in a teleconference Sunday afternoon, Meyer said he was reluctant to address the BCS because he doesn’t want his attention diverted from the challenge posed by the 10th-ranked Spartans, who have the top-ranked defense in the nation.
“We’re going to have a team meeting in a little bit, and we’re going to spend about six or eight seconds on that,” he said. “There will be no conversation about it, no social networking about it. Our focus is on this game, and that’s it. It would be a disservice to our players if I worried about it.”
Auburn (11-1) is ranked third and still has a chance to overtake the Buckeyes if it beats fifth-ranked Missouri for the SEC crown. Although no unbeaten team from a major conference has ever been bumped out of the national title game by a one-loss squad, the Tigers are getting plenty of support in the polls, which make up two-thirds of the BCS calculations.
In the coaches Top 25, the Buckeyes’ lead over the Tigers has shriveled from 160 points to 25 since last week. In the Harris ratings, the difference has dwindled from 250 to 66. OSU is also second in the computer ratings.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is already lobbying for the Tigers, telling USA Today: “It would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out.” He also called it “un-American.”
But Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida, said he doesn’t think there’s a huge gap between the SEC and Big Ten and believes the Buckeyes would be competitive with anyone.
“I feel very strongly about my team. I would take this team anywhere with me,” he said. “A team that knows how to win and refuses to lose is a special team, and this is a very special team.”
But he added: “Ohio State is not even in any (future BCS) conversation unless it can figure out how to move the ball against the best defense in America.”
The Buckeyes don’t know yet whether they’ll be without two key offensive players against the Spartans. Starting guard Marcus Hall and hybrid back Dontre Wilson were ejected from the Michigan game after a melee early in the second quarter.
Both threw at least one punch, and Hall slammed his helmet to the turf, kicked a bench and made obscene gestures to the crowd as he left — all caught on national TV.
Meyer said he expected to hear Sunday night from the Big Ten office about whether those two will face further discipline. He’s planning to hand out some punishment internally, but he said he won’t bench Hall and Wilson against the Spartans if the league allows them to play.
“The rule is very clear that if you get in a fight, you lose a game,” he said. “They lost a game. They didn’t play from that point forward. They were ejected from the game. It’s a tough penalty in a rivalry game, but it’s one that I agree with.”
Hall was contrite in a post on Twitter:
“I love The Ohio State University and appreciate everything it has done for me. From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry and hope everyone can accept my sincere apology.”
Wilson also posted a message Sunday on Twitter: “Good morning, blessed to see another day. Everyone pray for me.”
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Ohio State (12-0) vs. Michigan State (11-1), 8 p.m., Indianapolis, FOX, 1410