CHARLES Dickens wasn't referring to a football game in "A Tale of Two Cities" when he wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair," but that seems to reflect the Buckeye fans' feelings last week about the OSU-Nebraska game.
With the Buckeyes' advance to the lead last Saturday, it seemed to be the best of times until the Cornhuskers made it among the worst of times for OSU.
OSU will face the unbeaten Fighting Illini Saturday so it's probably best to heed another Dickens' quotation: "This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in."
And OSU head football coach Luke Fickell indicated the Buckeyes aren't sitting around moping even though they're all "disappointed in how we finished out last week's game, but we move on, and that's what we've got to do. ... We'll all grow from it, we'll all be better in the long run because of it as long as we handle it in the right way. Nothing will change for us, the energy, the passion, all those kinds of things won't change the way we coach, won't change the way we get after our guys, our expectations of them won't change, and I think they've embraced that."
Competing against Big Ten teams isn't easy, and it probably will especially difficult because Illinois moved up three spots to No. 16 in this week's Associated Press poll while jumping one spot to No. 15 in the USA Today coaches' poll. That's the Illini's highest ranking since heading into the 2008 Rose Bowl at No. 13.
Illinois at 6-0 is having its best start since the 1951 team opened the season 7-0 and ended the season with a 9-0-1 record and and a share of the national championship. The team also is one of 13 remaining unbeaten teams in the nation in addition to being one of seven that are 6-0 and bowl-eligible.
That doesn't mean the Illinois can't be beaten.
Remember OSU's 2002 season when the Buckeyes had a narrow escape when facing the Cincinnati Bearcats that September. To save the day for OSU in the fourth quarter, quarterback Craig Krenzel ran six yards for a touchdown with 3:44 remaining and safety Will Allen intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final minute with the final score being 23-19 in favor of the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes then remained undefeated that season, which was topped off when they became national champion that January in the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the BCS National Championship game in Tempe, Ariz.
Illinois, which has had a couple of close calls, is described as being on a roll on both sides of the ball, and Fickell said offensively, it starts with the quarterback, and he thinks that's one of the biggest changes he's seen about the Fighting Illini from last year to this year.
"They've still got a lot of the same guys up front back that gives them obviously a chance, but I think it starts with the quarterback and his confidence level, his ability to run and throw," said Fickell. "He's playing as well as anybody I've seen on tape this year.
"Defensively, they're sound. They're going to get after you. They're going to mix it up a little bit, but that's what coach (Ron) Zook has probably been most known for is his defense and where he's been on that side of the football so you know they're going to be fundamentally sound. And a team that's rolling, you can see the emotions, you can see the confidence level in them. That's something that's very obvious when you watch the film."
In his press conference, Zook, a native of Loudonville, Ohio, said that he described the Buckeyes to his players as "a very, very dangerous team. Because No. 1: They're very talented; No. 2: They're very well-coached, and No. 3: We're going to get their best - we'll get everything they've got. And it's going to be important that we play the same way."
Illinois has defeated Arkansas State, 33-15; South Dakota State, 56-3; Arizona State, 17-14; Western Michigan, 23-20; Northwestern, 38-35; and Indiana, 41-20.
Fickell pointed out the kind of passion the Buckeyes have in playing football and also emphasized the players' work ethic. "I think they, in their minds, knew that they were in for a battle throughout this entire season, and getting better is what we said we had to do from the get-go. I think ... that's the only thing that allows me to sleep a little bit at night, to know that those guys are workers. They're fighting for each other. They believe in each other, and I don't think there's anything that can drive them apart."
Saturday's game will be the 98th (counting the 2010 game which was vacated) between the two teams. Remember, the 2010 season was vacated by OSU but the score of that vacated game was OSU, 24, and Illinois, 13.
FICKELL was asked during his press conference whether he had the authority if he wanted to change the logistics of offensive play calling, and he replied, "Yeah, why not?"
The person questioning him replied, "I'm just clearing up a rumor."
Those at the conference laughed when Fickell said, "Who else would I have to check with, my wife?"...
FORMER OSU coach Earle Bruce in his book, "Buckeye Wisdom," reported when the Buckeyes play Illinois, it brings back memories of Woody Hayes and his lesson on Abraham Lincoln. According to Bruce's book, Hayes said at 6 feet 4 inches, 180 pounds, "Abe could have been a great offensive tackle or tight end, but not a good football coach."...
SATURDAY'S game, which will begin at 3:30 p.m. in Champaign, will be televised nationally by ABC.