In the week leading up to the Kent State game, Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline said it would be “interesting” when the season’s first BCS rankings would be released that weekend.
That statement proved to be prophetic as the Buckeyes, who entered the weekend ranked as the No. 3 team in the country in both major polls, sat perched at the top of the rankings following two weekend upsets.
Unveiled live on Fox on Sunday afternoon, OSU holds down the No. 1 ranking ahead of the South Florida Bulls, who sit behind the Buckeyes at No. 2. The Buckeyes’ have a .9416 BCS average, while USF has a .9200. Boston College sits at No. 3 with a .8906 average. All three teams are unbeaten.
No other Big Ten team sits in the top 20 of the initial rankings. Michigan sits at No. 25 with an average of .0783.
Despite the ranking, OSU head coach Jim Tressel said his team still has a lot to work on.
"Our guys have done what they have needed to do to this point in the year, and we are pleased with that effort and progress, but not content," he said. "With the most demanding part of our schedule remaining with five Big Ten conference games, there is a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve improved each week, but we understand that the only poll that counts is the last one."
Following the Buckeyes’ 48-3 victory over Kent State, senior captain Kirk Barton said that the team pays little attention to where they sit in the national rankings.
“We can never control that,” he said. “All we can do is go out and win. In the preseason if you’re rated lower and you keep winning, keep winning, you may not get high enough to be No. 2. If we would’ve started off at, say No. 20 or No. 25 and we were still winning would we be up to No. 3 right now? We’d be like tenth. Those things are all subjective. We have to just keep doing what we can do."
Losses suffered by then-No. 1 LSU (43-37 to No. 17 Kentucky) and then-No. 2 California (31-28 to unranked Oregon State) allowed OSU to ascend to the top spot in the polls.
The Buckeyes began the season ranked No. 10 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the Associated Press poll. A 38-6 victory over I-AA Youngstown State dropped them to Nos. 11 and 12, respectively, in the two polls. That week, they were also passed by Cal in the rankings.
Last season, the Buckeyes began as the odds-on favorites to win the national championship and started the season ranked No. 1 in both major polls. That did not change for the entirety of the regular season, when OSU posted as 12-0 record en route to a berth in the national championship game.
The target on the Buckeyes gets bigger, but that just comes with the territory, they said.
“Last year we started No. 1 and people really knew who we were and we had a target on our back, but as the coaches always say, this is Ohio State,” junior offensive lineman Steve Rehring said. “You always have a target on your back. It’s everyone’s No. 1 game, whoever you play.”
Following the loss to Florida, the Buckeyes now have an all-time record of 64-9-1 when ranked as the nation’s top team. Prior to the loss to the Gators, the last time OSU had been defeated while ranked No. 1 in the country came on Nov. 7, 1998, when the Buckeyes dropped a 28-24 home decision to Michigan State, snapping a nine-week stint as the nation’s top team.
They finished that season ranked No. 2 in both major polls following a 24-14 victory over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.
It marks the first time the Buckeyes have been ranked No. 1 in consecutive seasons since they did so in the 1973-75 seasons – a total of 22 weeks.
Hartline said he can see the path to a return to the national title game laid out before the team.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a light twinkling down there, but that’s about it. I know halfway through we’re feeling pretty good right now, but if we start feeling too good bad things happen. As of right now, I can start to see it.”