CHICAGO — At almost the same moment on Thursday, the sky-high expectations for Ohio State and the inherent dangers of such status converged.
The coaches preseason poll was released just before the start of Big Ten media days. The defending national championship Buckeyes were a near-unanimous pick as the No. 1 team.
But any backslapping about that was quickly overshadowed with the news that four players, including All-America defensive end Joey Bosa and hybrid back Jalin Marshall, would be suspended for the opener Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech for violating a team rule.
That instantly dominated the college football news, proof that the Buckeyes, for better or worse, will be in the crosshairs all season.
To some degree, that’s nothing new for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been the Big Ten’s top program this century. They are familiar with having a target on their back. They say that they embrace it.
“Obviously, we’re not going to take anybody by surprise,” senior left tackle Taylor Decker said. “Everybody knows what we have. People always say you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. I take it as an opportunity. Every team we play is going to get ours as well. There are positives and there are negatives to it. It’s just something you have to deal with. There’s no way around it.”
Coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith would not divulge the nature of the transgressions that caused the suspensions. Meyer said that while he is always concerned about “stuff” that can derail individuals and eventually a team, he believes the 2015 team is on track.
He said the graduation rate is the highest in program history. His right-hand man, strength coach Mickey Marotti, has given the players high marks in the weight room for their offseason work. Meyer also praised the work that players have done in the community.
“All we can do is watch the indicators closely, and then dive into it with a sledgehammer if we start to see something that’s disrupting the team,” Meyer said. “And we’ve dealt with one (with the suspensions). And I knew this was coming for a while. At some point, we were going to have to address it, and we did.”
Bumps in the road are inevitable for any team, on and off the field. The Buckeyes overcame an extraordinary amount during the 2014 season. Meyer’s philosophy is to grind his players so hard that adversity becomes second-nature to them.
It paid off during the postseason last year.
“The last three weeks of the season, we had a perfect culture,” Meyer said. “Those kids played (so well) because they loved each other. People say, ‘C’mon, coach.’ But that’s what they did. That’s created by the team culture. … They loved their teammates and they love Ohio State.”
It was telling that when a questioner posed a question about the Buckeyes being defending champions, Meyer cut him off. He pointed out that the 2015 team doesn’t have the same personnel as that of 2014 (though it has oodles of returning talent). This is a new team, he said. The 2015 Buckeyes are not defending a title, in his eyes, because it’s not theirs to defend.
Meyer has coached long enough to understand how difficult and tenuous the harmony and chemistry that last year’s team had can be.
“The ability to enter a storm, survive a storm and come out stronger, those are the teams that win,” he said. “It’s very rare.”
In 2013, he said, the Buckeyes faltered when they hit rough seas against Michigan State and then Clemson. The loss to Virginia Tech early last year, the injuries of quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett and the death of teammate Kosta Karageorge could have sunk Ohio State’s season.
The Buckeyes hope that what they learned from that experience will serve them well in 2015.
“We can’t get complacent,” senior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “We have to remember what got us there last year.”
Ohio State was written off after the Virginia Tech loss in 2014. The Buckeyes used that as motivation. Now, they’ll derive motivation from knowing that everyone is targeting them.
“You have no choice but to embrace it if you want to get back,” Washington said. “You can think about all the hard times we had last year when we had people counting us out, and I feel that can get us through any situation.”
This article was written by Bill Rabinowitz from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.