- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The chance to win a championship was right there at the top of the list for the team.
Not far behind that, developing better leadership skills was critical as an individual.
But even when he was rattling off the reasons he elected to return for another year at Ohio State way back in the spring, Bradley Roby, a fourth-year junior, didn't exactly hide from the fact that this likely will be his last season in Columbus. And while the chance to boost his professional stock might not have been among the most important factors in his return, Roby certainly has been aware all along that he would have plenty of high-profile opportunities to audition when the lights were on and all the attention would be on him.
"This is definitely one of the games that I came back for -- prime time, ABC, night game, nobody else playing. Why not?" Roby said just before opening Big Ten play against Wisconsin last month. "That's why I play football, to play in big games against good opponents, versus very good opponents when everybody is watching.
"I love to make plays when everybody is watching."
Those turns in the spotlight and a decision to stick around at Ohio State don't come without risk, though, since just as many people are tuned in and watching closely when things don't go quite as well as planned.
Roby certainly hasn't been bad for the No. 4 Buckeyes so far, currently sitting fourth on the team in tackles with 32, making two interceptions and breaking up six other passes. Heading into his third crack at a primetime showcase in four games, he has offered more than a few reminders why he was a first-team All-American a year ago while showing the kind of natural talent that allowed him to flirt with the NFL in the first place.
But like his season as a whole, the two previous outings in front of a national audience have been a mixed bag, and Ohio State certainly could use something more closely resembling the consistently elite version of Roby from a year ago when it hosts Penn State and star receiver Allen Robinson on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
"I think he did set a high standard [last year], and he sets a high standard for himself," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "He's not playing at the same level he did a year ago. At times he plays fantastic, but when there's a mistake at the corner position, it's glaring."
Roby obviously can't shoulder the blame for every breakdown in the secondary, particularly since Ohio State is asking a lot of its most skilled cover guy as it makes an emphasis to stop the run while also dealing with a significant injury to safety Christian Bryant that has cut down on the depth in the backend.
And while there still have been highs that perhaps only Roby could provide, like a timely interception against Wisconsin or the punt he blocked with his freakish athleticism before recovering it for a touchdown against Northwestern, there have been more lows than expected as well.
There was a one-game suspension for an offseason incident at a bar in July. The Badgers found acres of wide-open space to throw to Jared Abbrederis, who racked up 207 yards receiving in the losing effort. Even if Roby himself might not have been directly responsible, there were more coverage breakdowns a week later against Northwestern, when he was at least in the area or had a chance to make a play.
And on Saturday against Iowa, Roby didn't even have an opportunity to cancel out a negative, getting ejected in the first quarter for a targeting violation before he could really make a positive impact for the Buckeyes.
But even with all that packed into half a season, Roby still has ample time to make up for it, starting with a head-to-head matchup against the leading receiver in the Big Ten that figures to be the center of attention.
"He works his tail off; he's got a great work ethic, attitude; he's coming back every day," Meyer said. "He's going to finish the year strong.
"He has been pretty good in practice, and I think he's getting ready to have a good game."
It’s exactly the kind of game that helped entice Roby back for another season with the Buckeyes in the first place. And just like he wants, all eyes will be on him.
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