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Meyer believes Buckeyes are national title contenders

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has a Thursday night ritual of watching college football on TV with his son, Nathan, and they’ll take in a double-header this week that has BCS championship implications.

Oregon, third in the BCS standings, visits Stanford (fifth), while Baylor (sixth) hosts Oklahoma (10th).

But though Meyer said he admires Oregon’s offense and plans to take mental notes, he doesn’t expect to see much separation between his team and the Ducks or any of the other national title contenders.

For the first this season, Meyer said the Buckeyes belong in the BCS discussion. He likens them to his 2006 team at Florida that won the Southeastern Conference and then seized the crown by pounding top-ranked Ohio State.

The Gators “just kept getting better and better,” he said. “There were some areas on our team that weren’t very good. They were young. We had to replace eight starters on defense.

“But I think there’s no question, the way we’re playing now, I compare it to the ’06 team. We’re getting better each week.”

The Buckeyes have a bye Saturday and will devote the extra time toward improving their pass defense, ranked 50th nationally. But Meyer likes what he’s seeing on offense.

Ohio State is on pace to set program records in several areas, including yards per rush (6.5), completion percentage (71.0), yards per play (7.0), yards per game (530.9) and points per game (48.2).

The current records are 5.7, 66.5, 6.6, 497.5 and 42.5, respectively.

Asked if the Buckeyes are finally reaching the heights he set for them two years ago, Meyer said: “We’re pretty close. This is the closest we’ve been since our staff has been here. This is the kind of aggressive team that practices very well, that has a very good alignment and chemistry behind the scenes.”

The Buckeyes are ninth in the nation in total defense and eighth in total offense. The only other team ranked in the top 10 in both categories is Florida State.

“Offense, defense, kicking game — there are certain areas where we can improve,” Meyer said. “But it’s to the point where, when we coach them, they get it. I felt at times last year, I don’t want to say resistance, but when you coach hard, sometimes people don’t get it when they think they’re going as hard as they can. Now, it’s very clear what we expect.

“These kids want to be coached because they want to be great.”

The Buckeyes have received good news on the injury front. Right tackle Taylor Decker, who suffered a sprained knee against Purdue last week, could return in time for the Illinois game on Nov. 16.

“It’s pretty good. It didn’t swell,” Meyer said. “We’re not going to practice him this week. We’re going to rehab him and then hope to have him next week.”

Passing prowess: Braxton Miller is the only Big Ten quarterback among the 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which goes to the nation’s top QB.

He’s 19-0 as a starter the last two years, including 7-0 this season, and ranks fourth nationally in completion percentage (72.5) and seventh in passing efficiency.

The Buckeyes have given him mostly short and intermediate throws the last three games, and he’s connected at a 79.7-percent clip for 707 yards with eight TDs and one interception.

He’s tied for second in the Big Ten with 15 TD passes, while back-up Kenny Guiton is fourth with 14.

TV for Illinois: ABC and ESPN will use one of their six-day picks on the OSU-Illinois and Michigan State-Nebraska games on Nov. 16, meaning the TV network and kickoff time for the Buckeyes won’t be known until Monday. The game will be either at noon or 3:30 on one of the networks.

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