Ohio State players quickly become Tiger fans after Alabama upset

COLUMBUS – Cory Linsley heard the roar first, then he heard the warning.

Ohio State’s football team was watching the end of the Auburn-Alabama game as their buses reached the outskirts of Columbus last Saturday night on their way home from Michigan.

The reception had been poor until they hit Columbus. But once they did, the picture of the game and the picture of their national championship future both became clearer.

When Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a missed field goal more than 100 yards to beat No. 1 Alabama on the last play of the game, the bus Linsley was riding went crazy.

The senior offensive lineman had turned away from the television screen when it appeared the game was headed toward overtime.

“The bus just went nuts,” he said. “It kind of scared the hell out of me. I looked up and everybody was going nuts.”

After a few seconds of the hooting and hollering, he heard senior wide receiver Corey Brown speak up to say the Buckeyes needed to tone down the celebration.

“Some people in the back of the bus were saying, ‘We’re going to the national championship.’ He (Brown) got up at the front of the bus and said, ‘Sit down. We’ve got a game to play next week.’ It clicked in with everybody and then everybody focused in,” Linsley said.

“I didn’t see Auburn beating ‘Bama, but they did. Either way it kind of lucked out for us. We put in our work. We needed someone to fall off. This is the best thing that could have happened to us.

“The dream is here, the chase is real,” he said, referring to coach Urban Meyer’s theme of “The Chase” for this season.

Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game between No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) and No. 10 Michigan State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) will be the first time since 1942 OSU has played a game the week after playing Michigan.

Ohio State players have read from the same script year after year and said that the Michigan game is the toughest, most hard-hitting game of the season.

So, the obvious question is if there is any concern about playing back-to-back huge games.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier says that fear has no foundation.

“I don’t have any concern about us getting back up for a game because we’re trying to play for a championship. I don’t feel like we’ll have a problem getting ready for this game,” he said. “I feel like we’ll be fine when it’s time to come back for this game.

“We just have to take care of business this week so we can take care of business the rest of the year.”

Defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers might be the people feeling the most pressure this week after Ohio State gave up 603 yards in its 42-41 win over Michigan. And not just from outside the walls of the Woody Hayes practice facility.

Meyer looked at that 603-yard effort and said, “To reach the level Ohio State expects, we need to play better on defense.”

Shazier said, “The whole defense was pretty mad about how many yards we gave up. It was just not acceptable. But we were still happy because we got a ‘W.’ “

When the Big Ten announced in November 2010 it would have a championship game, Ohio State thought it would be there soon. But turmoil, suspensions, a 6-7 record two years ago and NCAA sanctions last year meant that this will be the Buckeyes’ first trip to the title game. Michigan State lost 42-39 to Wisconsin in the 2011 championship game.

“We were all excited,” Linsley said about the reaction at Ohio State when the championship game was announced three years ago. “And then everything happened.”