COLUMBUS — There were times during Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s coaching rise from the college football hinterlands to the big city when any win was a good win.
"Hell yeah," he said.
Columbus is not one of those places.
"You're saying at Iowa State, if we scored 60 and had 600 yards of offense, we'd feel a little bit differently on Monday than we do at Ohio State?" he said.
For a team clawing to remain in the chase for a national title, the answer was evident in the shortage of backslaps after OSU’s 60-35 takedown of Illinois. Yet as the No. 4 Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) attempt to win a school-record 23rd straight game Saturday against Indiana, they are making a newfound effort to embrace the ride — and quit worrying about a Bowl Championship Series race that appears beyond their control.
Outside the walls of their football castle, the BCS cacophony is only intensifying.
Though the Buckeyes remained third in the Harris and coaches polls — the two human components that count — they were leapfrogged by Baylor in the Associated Press poll and saw their lead dwindle in the latest BCS standings. OSU is ahead of Baylor by .0013 points and still well behind No. 1 Alabama and second-ranked Florida State.
Coach Urban Meyer vowed Monday to stop talking about the Buckeyes’ ranking, other than to express mild frustration with the outgoing 16-year-old system. A four-team playoff will begin next season.
"I think it's a flawed system," he said. "When you logically think about it, what the BCS people have done, which obviously we're all part of, I think it was great for a while.
"I think it took an imperfect system and did the best you can without a playoff. There's going to be controversy in playoffs, too, now. There's not a 64-team playoff. You're going to have four guys. What is that fifth team going to feel like?"
Meyer turned all other non-Indiana inquiries into a running joke on redshirt freshman running back Warren Ball’s tackling skills. Point was, his focus is less on the big picture than the details, including the Buckeyes’ undermanned special teams.
With nine scholarship players out with season-ending injuries — including freshman safety and Central Catholic graduate Jayme Thompson — the Buckeyes have five offensive players on their punt coverage unit. That includes greenhorns like freshman tailback Ezekiel Elliot and Ball, who were on the field when Illinois returned a punt for a 67-yard touchdown.
Each question about the BCS or the Buckeyes’ winning streak brought another non-sequitur.
"Ezekiel is on our punt team, I have to teach him how to tackle," Meyer said with a smile. "Warren Ball is running down on kickoff. He's the number two guy in the boundary. When you run a boundary run, your job is to spill the lead blocker. He hasn't done that in his high school career. We're going to work hard on that in practice. Any other questions about Warren Ball's coverage?"
Meyer mentioned Ball by name eight times, eventually saying, "Poor Warren."
His lieutenants took a similar approach.
"It was like last year when everybody said, ’Is there frustration you can't go to a bowl game?’" said Herman, who has emerged as one of the nation’s hottest assistant coaches after stops at Texas Lutheran, Sam Houston State, Texas State, Rice, and Iowa State. "No, we knew we couldn't go to a bowl game in January.
"We've known about the BCS for the last 15 years. To waste brain cells thinking about it would be brain cells that I can use to help the offense or help [quarterback] Braxton Miller, to be a better husband or better father."
Of course, he knows this is easier said than done for college students. Senior center Corey Linsley said he tries not to think about the BCS, only to, well, think about the BCS.
"There's no lobbying we can do at this point to change the BCS formula," Herman said. "The only thing we can concentrate on is how do we advance further in the BCS, how do we keep ahead of Baylor? That's just the reality. How do we get to the national championship? That's our goal. That's the only thing we can control, and that's really what we're focused on.
"We're disappointed by winning 60-35. We didn't cover whatever spread that we needed to, didn't score enough points to boost up our rating. That's a reason why we're disappointed with the way that we played. It's reality."
EXTRA POINTS: The Game will kick off at its usual time. As expected, OSU’s trip to Michigan on Nov. 30 will start at noon and be televised by ABC. The Buckeyes' game against Indiana will begin at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. ... The OSU defense should be healthier this week. Meyer said freshman defensive end Joey Bosa is likely to return from a "sore neck" and called Joshua Perry (head) "probable" and Curtis Grant (ankle) "questionable." Left tackle Jack Mewhort (knee) also said he’s good to go. ... Herman said his newborn son, Maverick, is doing "awesome." "I’m just glad he's not blonde-haired and blue-eyed because I haven't been home very much," he said, laughing.