COLUMBUS — Two powerhouses now stand tall between Ohio State and a shot at the national title.
But if you ask Buckeyes receiver Evan Spencer, maybe top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Florida State aren’t such big hurdles, after all.
"I guess I'm a little biased, but I think we'd wipe the field with both of them," he said with a laugh. "That’s just my bias speaking."
OK, maybe a lot of bias. Point is, Spencer is confident, and so is a Buckeye team hoping for one more domino to fall in their championship pursuit.
As No. 3 OSU (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) prepares for its trip to 32-point underdog Illinois on Saturday, coach Urban Meyer said he wants his team to embrace its elevated place in the national fray.
"The [message] is to win the game, but it’s also you have to play great," he said after practice Monday. "We do. You’re held to a higher standard. That means you have to practice and play at a certain level. We practiced at a very high level today.
"And I expect them to play — they expect to play — at a very high level because you're in the same breath with some very, very good teams. To maintain that status, you have to play very well. Very well."
Which Meyer believes the Buckeyes are, saying he voted the Buckeyes second in the latest USA Today coaches’ poll. Alabama was first and Florida State third.
"I’ve had us No. 2 all year," he said. "I just think we're playing like one of the top teams in the country right now."
Coming off back-to-back historic routs — a 63-14 win over Penn State and a 56-0 beatdown of woeful Purdue — few would argue. The Buckeyes rank sixth nationally in total offense (530.9 yards per game), eighth in rushing (301.1 yards), and 10th in total defense (311.7 yards).
Meyer said this is the best he has felt about his team since arriving in Columbus in November 2011 — a span that has yet to include a loss. After a perfect debut last year, the Buckeyes will attempt to match a school record with their 22nd straight win Saturday.
"We're a better team than [last season]," he said. "We're a better functioning team. I don't want to have ever disrespect our seniors because they were such an incredible group of people, and they were really good players, too. We’re just more functional, certainly on offense. On defense, I'm not sure we're quite as good. Remember this time last year is when we hit the accelerator and we played excellent defense. ... I think that's an interesting conversation, but we're just more functional, certainly on offense."
How the Buckeyes would stack up against two-time defending national champion Alabama remains the big question. For now, all Ohio State can do is keep winning — and hope one team above them does not.
"Right now, we're just focused on beating Illinois," said senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate. "If we ever come to that hurdle, we'll think about that then. [Alabama is] a great football team, obviously, No. 1 in the nation. If we ever get that shot, I think we'll be ready for it."
Said Spencer: "If we go out and execute for a full game, there’s nobody in the country that we feel can hang with us."
EXTRA POINTS: The Buckeyes' game Saturday at Illinois will kick off at noon and be televised by ESPN. ... Meyer said sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker, who went down with a sprained MCL at Purdue, practiced "full speed" Monday and remains on course to start at Illinois. ... Former OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel, who led the Buckeyes to the 2002 national championship, will be signing autographs from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the Buckeye Store and More, 5700 Monroe St., Sylvania.