The target gets a lot bigger when you’re No. 1.

The target gets a lot bigger when you’re No. 1.

It’s a pressure-cooker spot, one where you have everything to gain and just as much to lose.

How Ohio State would handle being the No. 1 college football team in the country was a big question after the Buckeyes rose to the top of the rankings last week.

Head Coach Jim Tressel’s players gave him an early indication Saturday when their season could have suddenly been shattered.

Ohio State escaped danger and held on to beat Michigan State, 24-17. In a season where being No. 1 or even 2 over an extended period is no sure thing, the Buckeyes never wavered when the game swung dramatically.

One minute, the Buckeyes were leading 24-0 and in complete control.

Literally the next minute, it was 24-14 and the game was up for grabs.

With a quarter-and-a-half still left, the Buckeyes reacted the way a No. 1 team should.

“We never panicked,” receiver Brian Robiskie said.

Michigan State’s two touchdowns were a result of turnovers by Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman. An interception and a fumble were returned for scores.

The offense regrouped and produced two key fourth quarter drives. The Buckeyes never scored, but the possessions ate up almost 9 1/2 minutes.

The Buckeyes were able to stretch the first drive out to their own 46-yard line after starting at their own 4. A Michigan State field goal with 3:42 left cut their lead to a touchdown, but Beanie Wells helped Ohio State run out the clock when he rushed for 36 yards on seven carries during the final drive.

Boeckman felt the offense showed some tenacity after the two turnovers.

“We cannot hang our heads when things aren’t going our way,” he said. “We can’t get down on ourselves.

“We just have to be poised, stay focused and stay calm. We have to pick ourselves back up and keep moving.”

Still the one

The Buckeyes strengthened their hold on the top spot in this week’s BCS rankings and Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Ohio State received 57 of 65 first-place votes in the AP poll. Last week the Buckeyes received 50 first-place votes.

Saturday’s close call did not weaken Ohio State’s position because Rutgers upset No. 2 South Florida on Thursday. South Florida’s loss enabled Boston College to move up to No. 2 in the BCS and AP poll.

Penn State hurting

The Nittany Lions will be short-handed when they face the Buckeyes. Two starters were lost for the season in Saturday’s 36-31 win over Indiana.

Defensive tackle Jason Odrick suffered a broken ankle and fullback Matt Hahn injured his right knee.

-- The Repository