COLUMBUS, Ohio - Since its sanctions were handed down last December, the Ohio State football team has been badgered by the media with questions about what a team that is facing a postseason ban has to play for.
The answers to those questions have now been rendered useless.
On Wednesday, the Big Ten announced that despite facing a postseason ban due to a cash-for-memorabilia scandal and coverup by former OSU coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes will still be eligible to win the conference's Leaders Division championship, even if they won't be permitted to play in the subsequent championship game. The same goes for Penn State, who is also ineligible for postseason play this season.
In the event that either OSU or Penn State tie for the Leaders Division title, however, they will be viewed as invisible and will not be recognized as a co-champion.
First-year OSU coach Urban Meyer- who admitted earlier this season that he wasn't sure how he'd motivate what would've the first team of his head coaching career to not be in the running for a championship at the end of the season- brushed aside the news that his team is now eligible to play for a division title.
"That's the first I've heard of something like that," Meyer said when asked for his thoughts on being eligible to win a division title. "There is going to be zero conversation about that in our locker room."
Meyer, however, did admit that a potential Leaders Division trophy could be a motivating tool for his team down the line.
"It's not going to make us play harder on Saturday," Meyer said. "But I think somewhere in November, yeah, I think that'll be interesting."
OSU sophomore receiver Evan Spencer said that the chance to play for a championship this season- even if it's just a divisional one- adds extra incentive to an already motivated football team.
"We never really talked about, 'Oh, we can't go to a bowl game this year, that sucks.' We were always just trying to go undefeated and show the country that we're the best," Spencer said. "Now that we actually get a chance to win a trophy, or something like that, it's just kind of like a cherry on top."
Winning the Leaders division championship, however, will be easier said that done. Although Penn State is expected to go through a down season given the severity of the sanctions it was handed following the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal and alleged coverup by school officials and former football coach Joe Paterno, the Buckeyes will face two-time defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin on Nov. 17, in Madison, Wisc. That game now figures to be a crucial one in the Leaders division race.
But regardless of the result of Buckeyes meeting with the Badgers, or who winds up with the Leaders division trophy, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller maintained that the Buckeyes are approaching this season one game at a time.
"That's not on our mind right now," Miller said. "We've got a game on the schedule right now, Central Florida, so that's what we've got to worry about right now."