LeBron James should have stopped by to see the quarterback who looks up to him so much. If nothing else, he might have enjoyed watching an Ohio team that can win a big game.

James was a no show Saturday, though it's doubtful many of those crammed into the Horseshoe cared. They might have liked to boo the King, but they liked what they saw in the field a lot more.

No early season stumble for Ohio State this year. No tumble from their lofty spot in the AP Top 25 poll, either.

Just a win over No. 12 Miami that was convincing enough that some in the massive crowd of 105,454 might have pulled out their phones and started scouting reservations for Arizona the second week of January.

Boise State seems so last week. The 36-24 win over Miami that could have been a lot more lopsided except for some lapses on special teams ensured one of college football's traditional powerhouses it won't have to worry much about losing ground to the Broncos for some time now.

Keep winning, and the No. 2 Buckeyes won't have to worry much about their postseason plans, either. Boise State certainly isn't going to ride its easy schedule past an undefeated Ohio State team into the national title game in Phoenix, especially after Virginia Tech got upset Saturday by James Madison.

It was billed as a revenge game for Miami, though the players seeking the revenge were playing Pop Warner when the Hurricanes lost the national title to OSU eight seasons ago. But it meant even more for the Buckeyes, who remember well the more recent history of early losses that put early ends to their national title hopes.

How big was this one? So big that even the coach admitted to it.

"As long as we continue to grow, this is huge," Jim Tressel said. "In my mind, going into the game, you know, I was interested to see if we were a top 10 team, and I thought we played a very good team. So if we'll keep growing from that, we've got a chance."

The argument could be made that Ohio State always had its fate in its own hands, after opening the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll. But the ranking was shaky after Boise State thrilled the country with a comeback win over Virginia Tech, and the Broncos actually got twice as many first place votes (eight) this week as Ohio State did and nearly moved past the Buckeyes in the rankings.

Voters are human, though, and generally remember the last thing they saw. In this case it will be an Ohio State team with a dominant defense and a quarterback who just keeps getting better with both his decisions and his feet.

Terrelle Pryor ran the ball so much he almost didn't have to pass. But he did that, too, throwing for 233 yards in his first real test since making a statement against Oregon in the Rose Bowl last season.

The performance did nothing to hurt Pryor's Heisman chances. It did everything to help the Buckeyes' chances of winning the national title for the first time since beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on an overtime run by Maurice Clarett.

The only down note of the day for Pryor is that the man he calls his "main man, my mentor" wasn't on the sidelines. James was the topic of conversation all week in Columbus, with Pryor asking Ohio State fans not to boo him if he showed up.

Although James wasn't there to congratulate Pryor, the opposing quarterback was.

"After the game I told him to keep it going and stay undefeated," Jacory Harris said. "He's a great quarterback. I'm sure he's going to lead his team to where they want to be."

For Ohio State, of course, there's only one place to be. Though the Buckeyes have played for the national title three times in the last eight seasons, bad losses in the last two have, in the minds of some players, tarnished the way the rest of the country looks at them.

"Ohio State gets talked down upon quite often," safety Jermale Hines said before the game. "It's hard not to see it with all the media now."

That's the same media, though, that tends to love jumping on a bandwagon. This one could go somewhere, though the Buckeyes will face tough tests against Wisconsin and Iowa on the road and Penn State at home before it's all over.

Pryor believes he's up for the task, talking after the game about how calm and comfortable he felt all day long. Although he's playing with the swagger of an offensive leader, the OSU defense is playing with its customary swagger.

It's a long season, sure. But, unlike the last two years when Ohio State lost early games to Southern California, it's a season that still offers the promise of a clear path to BCS title game.

No, the King wasn't there. But this season the Buckeyes showed up when it mattered most.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org