If Ohio State coach Urban Meyer could have had his way this week, he would have confiscated all cell phones, blocked access to Twitter and banned everything on TV but PBS — whatever it took to avoid the constant banter about the Buckeyes and the BCS.
Meyer knows how to go into lock-down mode to get ready for an opponent, but he questioned whether his players could ignore the chatter of the outside world.
“You wish you could get guys, like raising your children, away on a desert island until they’re old enough to make the right decisions and focus. On top of that, it was finals week,” Meyer said during a press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“But I like the maturity of our team. You rely on the leaders and coaches on your team to stay focused. We’ll see how it goes, but as of Friday afternoon, I’m very pleased with our focus.”
He added: “We’re going to play well. I don’t know if we’ll win, but we’ll be prepared.”
Second-ranked Ohio State (12-0) will meet 10th-ranked Michigan State (11-1) for the Big Ten crown before a sellout crowd at 8:17 p.m. today, and much is at stake for both teams.
The Buckeyes appear to be playing for a spot in the BCS championship, while the Spartans could make their first Rose Bowl trip in 25 years with a victory.
The Big Ten is a winner either way, getting its first matchup in the three-year-old conference title game that has generated buzz nationally.
Meyer was part of three SEC divisional clashes at Florida and remembers “an incredible atmosphere. … I’m anticipating one of the best environments in college football.”
MSU was runner-up to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten title game, and coach Mark Dantonio said his team has been thinking of a trip to Pasadena since the end of a 7-6 season in 2012.
“You’ve got to dream big. I think that’s part of sports,” he said.
The Buckeyes’ case for playing in the BCS championship has been a topic of much debate because their defense was riddled for 603 yards last week by Michigan — the second-most yards ever allowed by OSU.
Asked how the unit looked in practice, Meyer said: “Great. I’ve seen a team and a coaching staff that went to work. … I didn’t see a lot of hanging of heads. Sunday was not the easiest time because we had to get through the film and make the corrections. The rest of the week was getting ready for Michigan State.
“I’m very impressed with how our defense responded.”
The Buckeyes were victimized by misdirection passes, which caught them over-pursuing. Expect that to be part of the MSU game plan.
But Dantonio said he believes the OSU defense is the best his team will have faced this year.
“A lot of those yards came on screen plays or broken plays — scramble situations — and just happened to be big-gainers,” he said.
“They’ve got good players. They run. They tackle. A lot of their players we know, obviously, because we recruited Ohio heavily. They recruit nationwide as well. They have great talent there.”
Meyer, though, acknowledged the linebacker corps has been far below OSU standards.
“Ryan Shazier has played at a high level. I think Josh Perry has solidified himself as a Big Ten linebacker, which is a big step for him,” he said. “The Mike (middle linebacker) is one we’ve had issues with.”
Curtis Grant, the starter in the middle, has seen limited playing time the last few games because of an ankle sprain but has practiced all week.
“They’re getting better — young players that are getting better. We’ve got to keep trying to stockpile that position,” Meyer said.
Disciplinary action: Senior right guard Marcus Hall, who was ejected for fighting in the Michigan game and then made obscene gestures to the crowd, will be replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman Pat Elflein.
“He won’t start the game. Other than that, we’ll see what happens,” Meyer said.
“He paid a penalty for the fight, which is he missed three quarters in the rivalry game. That’s not Marcus. But I’m just really disappointed in his actions after the fight.”
Injury update: Corey “Philly” Brown, the Buckeyes’ leading receiver, has a “small stress fracture” in his leg, Meyer said. “It’s healing. He’s not full speed, but pretty close.”
National attention: ESPN College GameDay will air from Indianapolis at 9 a.m. today, the first time this season the popular pregame show has been broadcast at the site of a Buckeye game.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Ohio State (12-0) vs. Michigan State (11-1), 8 p.m. today, FOX, 1410