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Ohio State must produce a more polished effort versus Northwestern

Coming off their first loss of the season, a 24-21 upset at the hands of Penn State in Happy Valley, the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1, 3-1 B1G) will have one thing on the mind: getting back on track.

All good teams will fail and lose every now and then, it’s just a part of sports. Alabama, last season’s College Football Playoff national champion, lost to Ole Miss before going on a 12-game winning streak ending in yet another title for Nick Saban.

Heck, even Ohio State knows a thing or two about losing in championship seasons. The Buckeyes won the first CFP championship in 2014, but OSU lost to Virginia Tech, 35-21, in the second game of that season.

Ohio State went on to win 13 in a row to hoist the trophy.

All good teams will fail, but great teams find a way to bounce back. That’s OSU test this weekend as it hosts the Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 3-1 B1G) in what the Buckeyes hope will be a bounce-back game.

Frankly, in order to keep both their CFP and Big Ten championship hopes alive, they’ll need it to be.

“We’ll reflect some other time,” Meyer told Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, referencing the loss to PSU and moving on. “We’re a good, young team, we’re getting better, and we’ve just got to keep pushing and grinding and fight through adversity. Life lessons and football lessons are learned and that’s what’s neat, and as a coach you really enjoy watching guys grow up.”

Growing up will be easier said than done this week. Ohio State’s young team is going to have to learn how to let the loss go. Sometimes teams can have a “hangover” after big, emotional moments. It can happen after huge wins, but it’s also something coaches need to look out for after heartbreaking losses. Ohio State can’t dwell on the past when playing Northwestern and the Buckeyes can’t get caught looking ahead, either. There are still a few big games left on the schedule for OSU – notably games against Nebraska, at Michigan State and a huge rivalry game against Michigan to end the season – but OSU can’t afford to look past the Wildcats.

Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern team may not be a title contender this season, but the Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak, all against Big Ten opponents. They beat Iowa, 38-31, Michigan State, 54-40 and Indiana, 24-14.

If there’s any solace for fans feeling nervous about this contest, Ohio State does appear to be taking it seriously. According to May, there are “beat Northwestern” signs hung throughout the athletic center in an effort to focus the team. Meyer is also preaching that the next game on the schedule is the biggest:

“We better focus on playing a very good team that’s on a roll right now,” Meyer said. “So that’s the reason we do that (with the signs). … One of the captains made the comment to the team, ‘Every little detail counts.’ Great football teams, great players, every little detail does count. We’re just trying to laser in on this game.”

15 October 2016: The Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer in action during a media time out as the 2nd ranked Ohio State Buckeyes defeat the 8th ranked Wisconsin Badgers (30-23) in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)

Ohio State, ranked No. 6 in the latest AP Poll, is still a CFP contender, but that sentiment is predicated on the Buckeyes taking care of business for the rest of the season and finishing with a win in Indianapolis.

Bouncing back against Northwestern is the first step in reclaiming that CFP mojo, and the good news for OSU is that history is on its side.

Ohio State has won 29 of the last 30 games between the two teams, and that includes a five-game win streak heading into this contest. The last time these two teams played, OSU beat Northwestern 40-30 in 2013, and before that it was a 45-10 win in 2008, both games played in Evanston.

This weekend will mark the first time Northwestern will play in Columbus since 2007. The Wildcats are 2-0 on the road this season, which bodes well for them, but Meyer is the master of the bounce-back, which is bad news for Northwestern.

In 188 games coached by Meyer in his college career, he has only lost two games in a row four times. The last time that happened was in 2013, losing to Michigan State and then Clemson.

Meyer will have his team prepared to get back on track, because that’s really all OSU can do at this point.

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