Ohio State has won 20 consecutive games and is rolling along at 8-0 this season, and off to a 4-0 start in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are ranked near the top in all of the national polls, and appear headed for a BCS bowl, and possibly an appearance in the national championship game, should the cards fall right.
But as they prepare for what could realistically be called an "easy" stretch of the schedule -- they play Purdue, Indiana and Illinois before closing the regular season at Michigan -- the fire is still cranked up in Columbus.
"I think early in the season our first year here, I was very alarmed. We weren't playing very hard. We weren't playing very smart," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said recently, taking a break from preparing for Purdue to spend some time reflecting on how quickly things have been turned around.
Coming off an improbable 12-0 record in 2012, which included a 29-22 win over Purdue in overtime, Meyer said he hoped to keep the Buckeyes on task, and not let them do too much scanning the horizon.
"That's been my concern ever since I've been head coach, so let's win our goals for the year and we don't have that conversation," he said about snuffing out any early national championship game chatter.
"It's always the same: To compete for championships in November, to get to November and then let's go try to find a way to win a championship. We don't go into the season saying we want to win this one, this one. If you look around there's not a bunch of goals. We have a goal to win the National Championship, but we don't put that down. There's too many variables involved."
So despite the relative weakness of a couple of the upcoming opponents, Meyer is not backing off the throttle.
"That's our focus. We're going to be in November," Meyer said. "We are competing for championships so you can bet the focus is very intense."
Meyer said one way he keeps his players performing at a razor-sharp edge is to keep the competition in practice on-going. Nobody has a position locked up, Meyer contends, not even star QB Braxton Miller.
"You come to Ohio State to start and the good thing is when you recruit fairly well, they know there's a guy right behind them," Meyer said. "If you want to go take a few plays off, then there will be someone else in there. That's when you start getting a good program. You know there's this guy right behind you and the friggin' stadium is calling his name. You better be pretty good."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--RB Dontre Wilson is a true freshman who has stepped in and been an impact player with the ball in his hands. He took a screen pass, broke outside, waited for a blocker, and then sprinted 26 yards for a touchdown against Penn State. "He's pretty lethal with the ball in his hands," Urban Meyer said about Wilson. "He's a great practice player; on Friday's walk-throughs he's going full speed. He's one of those guys -- you gotta have him around."
--RB Carlos Hyde continues to crush the opposition. Hyde has 464 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in just the last three games. He had had three straight games with at least 100 rushing yards in a half, and he is one of just three players in the country who has not lost a yard this season.
--PK Drew Basil has hit a school record 88 consecutive extra points. Basil nailed his final 44 extra point tries last season after missing his first attempt in the Cal game. He has been perfect on 44 tries this season.
--DB Bradley Roby, after a somewhat rocky start to the season, has moved into the top 15 nationally in passes defended with 10. Roby led the nation in that category in 2012 with 19 passes defended in 12 games.
--QB Braxton Miller had a career-high 252 yards passing as he produced 320 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the 63-14 win over Penn State. Miller played just over a half, and was good on 18 of 24 passes, throwing touchdowns to three different receivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's frustrating for everybody. There's a time here where they played a decade of defense that was as good as anybody in America, but the last three years hasn't been that way. But I see improvement. I think player development is going to be very important. We lost a lot of great players from last year's team. Last year's defense, the last half of the year, was Buckeye defense." -- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on the play of his defense.