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COLUMBUS — The shots fired came on Ohio State’s final drive into history Saturday.
Tailback Carlos Hyde remembered the way Denard Robinson had rubbed in Michigan’s victory in Ann Arbor last season and decided he would get the last word. After each of his runs that helped sap the final 4 minutes, 50 seconds of the Buckeyes’ 26-21 win, Hyde pantomimed spooning food into his mouth.
The message: Keep feeding me.
“I wanted to show him what it really means to eat,” Hyde said with a smile afterward.
It was a snapshot Michigan players will not soon forget.
The big question: Can they or anyone else in the Big Ten do anything about it?
Ohio State figures to keep eating for a while under coach Urban Meyer, who improbably guided a program from 6-7 to perfection.
For the Buckeyes, this year was not about what they lost — the chance to play for a national championship because of NCAA sanctions — but what was found.
Thirteen months ago, the Buckeyes were nose-diving to their first seven-loss season since the 19th century and struggling to recruit with a lame-duck coach. Then, Meyer accepted the job after a self-imposed one-year break from coaching and everything changed.
Meyer required only two months to transform a second-rate 2012 recruiting class into one ranked among the top-five nationally, then put the team through what multiple players termed “hell and back” and oversaw a winding season for the ages that was perfect only in the way that mattered most. OSU joined its predecessors from 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968, and 2002 as the sixth unbeaten or untied team in program history.
“To be 12-0, it really hasn't sunk in yet,” Meyer said Saturday. “It's more the fact that we're going to lose [the seniors]. It's almost like you're losing some of your children when they go away to college.
“Our house is going to be empty. When we go to a meeting after our team meeting on Tuesday, we start a new journey. And the foundation's really, really strong. Couldn't be stronger.”
Now, though with an enduring nod to the 21 departed seniors, Meyer sets off on Year 2 — a season for which history portends a memorable encore. In Meyer’s second season as head coach, Bowling Green State University went 9-3, Utah went 12-0, and Florida thumped Ohio State in the BCS title game.
OSU rewrote that timeline this year, with players in agreement late Saturday the Buckeyes should be considered for the Associated Press national championship if they are the last unbeaten team standing. Top-ranked Notre Dame is also perfect, though the Irish are a projected underdog in the BCS championship game.
“If we are the last team, I think we deserve to be in the top two if not No. 1,” senior receiver Jake Stoneburner said.
A poll title is unlikely. The Buckeyes remained fourth in the latest ballot released Sunday, behind Notre Dame and one-loss Southeastern Conference teams Alabama and Georgia. But they positioned themselves for a run at the real thing — a BCS title — next year.
With a preseason Heisman Trophy contender — junior-to-be quarterback Braxton Miller — leading an offense that returns nine starters, OSU will likely open 2013 as a top-five team. A defense that remade itself midway through this season needs to replace six senior starters and possibly two underclassmen. (Junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a projected first-round NFL pick, and third-year sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby have kept the door open to leave.)
But OSU continues to keep pace in recruiting — more than 40 prospects took in Saturday’s game — and will face a feathery path to Round 2 of Meyer vs. Brady Hoke. A trip to California, which axed coach Jeff Tedford after a 3-9 finish this season, highlights the nonconference schedule, while OSU trades out Nebraska and Michigan State for Iowa and Northwestern in the Big Ten. Its conference road games leading up to a Nov. 30 clash in Ann Arbor: Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois.
Yes, Ohio State look to keep eating. So while the Buckeyes lost out on a BCS game this season, they may have found something bigger.
“I made a comment last November that our objective is to make the great state of Ohio proud,” Meyer said. “I imagine there's a lot of people in this great state very proud of what their football did [this season.]
“And it’s their football team, no one else’s. This is the state of Ohio’s football team, and I'm sure they're very proud."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.