As a reminder of just how quickly things can move in the college football world, the offseason for the Ohio State football team began at 6 a.m. this morning.
At that time, the Buckeyes who did not play in Saturday’s win over Michigan were required to be at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for running and lifting. With the 2012 campaign now over at 12-0, work begins anew as the Buckeyes will try to become the seventh unbeaten and untied team in school history next fall.
Saying his focus on filling the holes to be left by graduation began at the final whistle Sunday, head coach Urban Meyer said he’s already started talking to his staff about what can be done to make next year’s team as good on the ledger as this one.
“I’ve probably already had seven meetings with my strength coach (Mickey Marotti) on how we can utilize that going forward,” Meyer said.
But that doesn’t mean he has any plans to forget about the squad that thrilled Buckeye fans throughout this fall, all the way through the 26-21 triumph over their archrivals on Saturday.
One of the major reasons is because of the selflessness the team showed, especially a senior class that could have left the program when the NCAA dropped a postseason ban on the Buckeyes last December.
Instead, everyone stayed, and each contributed something, whether it was big or small, to a team that will go down in school history. Meyer said he will continue to look at ways to honor this most recent squad around the team’s football facility and how to use their actions in setting the standard at Ohio State to inspire others going forward, but for right now, the time is right for reflection.
“The memory that I’ll always have of this season without getting overly dramatic is just the complete selflessness,” he said. “Arguably the best I’ve ever seen. You always talk about team, and it’s a cliché that every coach dreams of, every coach uses, you’re always taught as young kids, put the team before me and all that. But how many times does that actually happen? It’s rare, but there’s example after example of this team doing that.”
Meyer also reiterated what he said after Saturday’s game, that his team in its current state could complete against any other squad in the nation. The Buckeyes showed great improvement on defense and special teams, two areas that were major concerns in the first half of the season, while finishing strong with wins at Penn State and Wisconsin and at home vs. Illinois and Michigan.
“There’s no con,” he said of finishing the season unbeaten. “I really believe we can play with any team in the country. That’s all I can tell you. That’s an educated (statement), that’s not just some guy.”
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes will get that chance, and the team will look different the next time it takes the field in Ohio Stadium. Senior leaders Johnny Simon and Zach Boren – two players Meyer said he learned a lot from this campaign – as well as fellow captains Garrett Goebel and Etienne Sabino and crucial starters Jacob Stoneburner, Reid Fragel, Nathan Williams and Travis Howard all played in their final games Saturday and will not return.
Meyer pointed to the linebacker corps as one place he’s worried about depth, though he spoke glowingly of the “excellent” second half of the season turned in by Ryan Shazier. He said he’s also worried at cornerback and on the defensive line given the hits the Buckeyes will take there.
“The linebacker position, that’s the weakest area of our team,” he said. “We’re losing a right tackle. I worry about the depth behind those guys, but next year I feel our offensive line will be very good. I worry about cornerback a little bit because we’re losing a really good player in Travis. The D-line, I think there are some good young players, but you’re losing a guy like John Simon.”
The coach also said his offensive staff will be tasked with making sure dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller continues to develop going into his junior season.
“I think he has a chance to be the best quarterback in America,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be comical what he can do, but he’s not there yet.”
Meyer also hopes to have his younger players return to the team. Both junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and third-year sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby could be projected as high NFL draft picks, but the head coach said he hasn’t discussed future plans with the two. Meyer is willing to do so when they ask, he said.
On the coaching front, Meyer said he has no plans to make any changes to his staff of nine assistant coaches, though he knows that successful teams often lose those mentors to other squads.
“I had a turnstile down at Florida, guys leaving,” he said. “Staff continuity is a high priority. I also understand the professional. Guys have to take care of their families. That part of the game is a business, and I certainly understand that. I like to think at a place like Ohio State, you’re not going to leave here to become anything but a head football coach.”
Speaking of being a head football coach, Meyer was asked about how the season went given his high-profile departure at Florida for stress-related issues and his subsequent task to recalibrate his priorities. Meyer said he made a family a priority during the season, even picking up a few red-light tickets while leaving the team’s facility to see his son Nate play football on Sundays, before giving Buckeye fans three words that had to make them happy.
“I feel great,” he said.