Urban Meyer hasn’t ever hid from discussing polls and national perspective topics with his teams, particularly if those dialogues help properly motivate his players.
And with this year’s Ohio State team facing a bowl ban despite being only one of four unbeaten teams remaining in the Football Bowl Subdivision, now would seem like the most appropriate time to sit his players down and have a discussion.
The topic hasn’t been broached.
“I have not even addressed that these last few weeks,” Meyer said. “I used to have state of the unions, but our guys know where they're at. We're good. I really like coaching this team right now, and that's not worrying about the nonsense. We haven't discussed it.”
The nonsense, as Meyer referred to it, is the team’s inability to play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions despite standing two games away from completing a rare unbeaten season.
With every win, the Buckeyes get one step closer to etching themselves a permanent spot in Ohio State history. Only five teams in the program’s 122-year history have finished a year unblemished.
If the Buckeyes do win its final two games to complete that task – monumental tests at Wisconsin this Saturday and at home a week later against archrival Michigan – the realization will set in that the team cannot play a 13th game in the postseason in what would have potentially been the BCS National Championship Game.
Meyer acknowledged he’s pondered the gravity of that thought.
“(I do think about that) every once in a while, but not as much as I thought,” he said. “I’ll hear it and read it once in a while, and I have good friends in the profession that will make a comment, and I’ll think for a second. But then I go back to knowing exactly who we were, and you go back to how we’ve won and who we are right now, and we’re pretty fortunate where we are.”
So here are this year’s Buckeyes – most of which comprised a team that lost seven games last season – with everything in the world to prove, but no tangible championship to gain. At this point, that just feels normal.
The players are used to it. Inundated with bowl ban talk for as long as most of them can remember, all that has been discussed since fall camp is the team’s desire to go unbeaten, to create a legacy that no NCAA sanctions can take away from them.
And there the team was on Monday, practicing as hard as Meyer has seen them work all season. There was no pep talk before the team took the field, nor was there a need to remind the players of what’s at stake in Madison this weekend.
“You need to be 12-0 for any of this to mean anything,” senior linebacker Zach Boren said. “I know a lot of us aren’t thinking about much until after that 12th game. We don’t think about injuries, polls or not having a game after we play That Team Up North.
“We’re young, but we’re a mature team. You kind of put your blinders on, you go to work and you win the game on Saturday. We have the two biggest games of the season coming up. After the season we can sit down and talk about how we really feel.”
Ohio State just completed a later-than-preferred open week after winning 10 consecutive times to start the Meyer era, most recently routing Illinois 52-22 in Ohio Stadium. Often enough during the team’s unbeaten stretch this season, the Buckeyes looked flawed.
But in a world in college football where going unbeaten is becoming increasingly rarer each year – only Ohio State, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame have a chance this season – there is something to be said for simply winning games.
Meyer has only taken one of his teams in his 10-year run as a head coach to an unbeaten season, Utah in 2004, and the Utes weren’t afforded the opportunity to play for the national championship.
This year, Ohio State won’t either, even if for different reasons. Still, the players – especially the seniors – know the magnitude of the final two games. Two wins separate the players from having a chance at being a team to remember instead of just names on a roster during dark days for the program.
Creating a legacy is enough.
“Certainly if you’re a young player now, you understand the great tradition of Ohio State football and the few teams that have been sitting at 10-0 with a chance to go 11-0, and I think that speaks for itself,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “I think our kids know what is at play here.
“The thing I like about our kids is they play each week just to win that week. I don’t think they’re worried about all the stuff that everybody else is worried about. And I don’t think (Meyer) lets them. I don’t think he lets them sit around and feel sorry for themselves if they don’t get to play a game in December.”
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