EAST LANSING, Michigan — For 11 months Ohio State tried to play it cool, claiming that its Nov. 8 matchup with Michigan State was merely another game on its schedule. But as its showdown with the Spartans approached, it became increasingly clear that this was the date that the Buckeyes had circled on their calendar—and boy, did they deliver.
Urban Meyer left no stone unturned in his biggest win in two-plus seasons as Ohio State's head coach, pulling out all the stops in what was ultimately a 49-37 Buckeyes victory.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett turned in another stellar performance, reentering his name into the Heisman Trophy conversation with 386 total yards and five touchdowns, while the OSU defense swarmed MSU signal-caller Connor Cook in a game that was decided with more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
If there were still any questions remaining about how good this Buckeyes team is—and there were—they were answered on Saturday. Regardless of how it did it, Ohio State went into Spartan Stadium at night as an underdog and walked away with a much-needed signature victory.
"This is a pretty young team that played a pretty veteran team and came out on top," Meyer told ESPN in his postgame interview. "The future is bright at Ohio State."
Only this wasn't about exercising demons left from last season's loss in the Big Ten title game—that all makes for meaningless fodder, which there certainly wasn't any shortage of in Columbus this past week.
Having their 24-game winning streak and national title chances ended by Michigan State last season may have been used as a motivation for the Buckeyes in the offseason, but what happened in East Lansing was bigger than any contrived revenge narrative could encapsulate.
This was about Ohio State proving that it was the real deal, not just a team that has beat up on bad opponents since its Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech. Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. just got a whole lot more interesting in Columbus, as the Buckeyes now find themselves right in the thick of a hunt for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Speaking of the playoffs, Ohio State entered this weekend's prime-time matchup ranked 14th, with the committee maintaining that the Buckeyes' resume was still lacking a quality win. Their showcase against the eighth-ranked Spartans certainly changed that, virtually locking up an appearance in this season's Big Ten Championship Game in the process.
Meanwhile, the seas appear to also be parting ahead of Ohio State, with three teams ranked in front of the Buckeyes all suffering their second defeats of the season on Saturday. Assuming Ohio State swaps spots with the Spartans, that should put it on the fringe of the all-important first four and in as good of shape as almost anyone heading into the homestretch of the season.
Because while the Buckeyes may lack the perceived sexy wins that are being earned in the SEC West and perhaps the Pac-12, Ohio State will always be able to point to what it did on Saturday when debating its worthiness in the playoff discussion.
And if that discussion is about who the four best teams in the country are at this point in the season, then that's one that the Buckeyes certainly belong in, evidenced by Saturday's double-digit victory.
"I'm glad everybody got to see this game," Meyer said. "This team is playing at a very, very high level."
Other quality opponents may lack, save for the likely Big Ten title game that Ohio State will play in, and the Buckeyes' Sept. 6 loss to now-4-5 Virginia Tech still remains somewhat of a scarlet letter on OSU's resume.
But in the span of two months, Barrett has transformed from overwhelmed freshman to one of the best signal-callers in the country, setting the pace for an offense that just racked up 568 yards against Michigan State's fifth-ranked defense.
"Boy, is he playing well," Meyer said of his freshman quarterback.
Add in weapons such as Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith and Jalin Marshall, as well as an emerging offensive line that set the tone against the Spartans, and it's clear that offensively, this Buckeyes team can play with anyone else on the country.
Defensively, questions still loom, especially after giving up 137 yards to MSU running back Jeremy Langford, but the unit has proven improved from a year ago and capable of coming up with a big play when it has had to.
Add it all up and this Buckeyes squad has all of the makings of a legitimate playoff contender at this point in the season. That's certainly the belief of its head coach as well, who knows that Ohio State has plenty to be playing for in these next four weeks.
"I think it is," Meyer said when asked if he believes the Buckeyes are a playoff team. "If I have to go fight for this team, I will."
With the way Ohio State played on Saturday, that might not take much effort.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.