Buckeyes look to validate last two seasons

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The record books have been updated to reflect the longest winning streak in school history. The trophy case has new hardware from a pair of Big Ten division titles.

One of the gleaming, gaudy rings from 2012 is shining on display at the front of the practice facility, and Ohio State’s players have claimed a couple of pairs of gold pants after consecutive victories over their biggest rival.

The list of accomplishments is certainly long since Urban Meyer took over the No. 7 Buckeyes and won 24 games in a row. But with that winning streak now over as Ohio State prepares for the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 12 Clemson, Buckeyes players are well aware that there might be some quality missing among all that quantity, which adds to the stakes on Friday night with the credibility of those achievements seemingly on the line.

+ EnlargeAllen Kee/ESPN ImagesUrban Meyer’s Buckeyes have just one loss in two years, but their 24 victories wouldn’t feel as fulfilling if they lost in the Discover Orange Bowl.“It’s not really about validating in the eyes of others, but definitely more so in our eyes,” senior center Corey Linsley said. “Obviously in validating it in our eyes, it will validate it in the eyes of others. But the thing we’re worried about is just showing our character, showing who we are as people by working hard and working towards a win.” The Buckeyes certainly have racked them up since Meyer took over, and rattling off that many victories without a misstep is impressive, regardless of the competition.

But there are some soft spots on the resume, starting with a relatively weak schedule that provided few opportunities to match up against ranked opponents. Ohio State received stiff tests from Wisconsin on two occasions. It won a tight, physical contest against Michigan State on the road last year. The Buckeyes knocked off competitive Nebraska and Iowa teams at home. And of course, there was a home-and-home sweep of Michigan.

But with this year’s edition of the Spartans qualifying as clearly the best opponent they had faced under Meyer, the Buckeyes lost more than just a perfect record when they came up short in the Big Ten title game.

Obviously the conference championship slipped away, leaving them without the biggest prize in the league after both seasons, as they were ineligible for the postseason in 2012 because of NCAA sanctions. For the same reason, the Buckeyes don’t have a bowl victory under Meyer, and missing out on the postseason robbed them of at least another crack at a victory over a reputable opponent. There’s a chance Ohio State could have been playing for the national championship had it been sanction-free last season, and it was absolutely in position to compete for it this year had it beaten the Spartans.

But aside from tallying the things the Buckeyes lost that could be easily quantified, what they really might be fighting is the perception that there wasn’t much substance to go with the stylish offense, opportunistic defense and the division trophies. And as long as that list of accomplishments might still be, without at least a BCS bowl victory, the Buckeyes might wind up with little to show for that 24-game winning streak.

“A lot of these players, with what they’ve gone through the last two years, you could look in their eyes and they were very disappointed, but they understand there’s an incredible opportunity ahead of them,” Meyer said. “With opportunity comes responsibility, and they understand that…

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