Everyone wants to know how Ohio State will adjust to a major step up in competition this week when the fourth-ranked Buckeyes travel to Texas to take on TCU.
Ohio State hasn’t feasted on the small-conference cupcakes some teams enjoy in early September, but the opposition from Oregon State and Rutgers hasn’t exactly been daunting, either.
Neither team qualified for a bowl last season, and from the way they looked while getting outscore by a combined 129-34 by Ohio State, the Beavers and Scarlet Knights aren’t likely to be playing beyond Thanksgiving weekend this year, either.
The Horned Frogs, on the other hand, are ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll and considered a challenger for the Big 12 crown.
Coach Gary Patterson’s team is coming off a bounce-back season in which it won 11 games, and the Horned Frogs hope to be playing not just in a bowl but still practicing after Christmas when the biggest and best postseason contests are generally held.
When it comes to preparations this week, though, acting Ohio State coach Ryan Day said expect business as usual, at least for the most part.
He does not want the Buckeyes to think of TCU as anything more than the next team they need to beat to achieve their goals.
“In terms of preparing for it, we are going to be who we are and do what we are,” Day said Monday. “I think when you start to stray and focus on other things, like it being a big game, that’s when you get distracted. We’ve got to focus on us and if we play the way that we know we can play, then that’s going to give us the best chance to win.
“If we start to overthink it or anything else, then we are not putting our best foot forward.”
Of course, this has been no ordinary start to the season for the Buckeyes.
Day guided the team through preseason without head coach Urban Meyer, who was placed on paid administrative leave then suspended after an investigation found he mismanaged the employment of an assistant coach.
Meyer was allowed to return to the team last Monday, but he can’t coach in a game until Sept. 22 when the Buckeyes host Tulane.
Day has gone to great lengths to stress he feels he is just holding Meyer’s place until the three-time national championship coach returns.
He provided another reminder Monday when he laid out the keys to victory Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“I think when you play in big games, obviously you have to take care of the football,” Day said. “You have to run the football. You have to play good defense and you have to really follow the plan to win even more because every play is so much more important.”
“The plan to win” is no random phrase.
Although Day forgot “winning the kicking game,” he was listing Meyer’s basic tenets for success on game day, four things he refers to collectively as his Plan To Win.
Meyer’s influence goes beyond an outline for success, too.
He is back to his usual role in terms of game-planning during the week, something Day said should be an asset given the reputation of Patterson as a defensive mastermind.
As for Day, he is getting more comfortable in his role as he gains more experience.
“There’s a learning curve there, you’re learning things for the first time,” he said. “Some things you do well and other things you don’t so well. You just try to regroup at the end of the day and try to figure out how you get better the next time do you it. You do something for the second time, you feel a little more comfortable in that role.
“It’s been a huge learning experience for me just going through it on a day-to-day basis, but one more week here and then kind of back to normal.”