COLUMBUS — Ever since they completed a perfect 12-0 season, Ohio State’s football players have heard the hype and the hopes of Buckeyes fans that they will make a run at a national championship in 2013.
Friday afternoon in a team meeting, Urban Meyer delivered a different message.
Before that meeting, Meyer said he was going to tell the Buckeyes the truth. Or, at least, the truth as he intends they see it.
“They’re going to get the truth about 2:30 this afternoon,” Meyer said Friday morning.
“The truth is we’re very strong in some areas, we’ve made great strides, some of them phenomenal. There were some phenomenal improvements and performances this year. But there were also quite a few that were below average performances. We’ve got to get those fixed,” he said.
“You have a good season and there's a lot of conversation about a lot of things that really shouldn't be discussed because it's not true. For example, are you guys going to go do this next year?” Meyer said, alluding to the national championship.
Ohio State bouncing back from a 6-7 season to go 12-0 and finishing ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press poll in Meyer’s first season in Columbus was one of the biggest stories in college football in 2012.
Add in a recruiting class that appears to be one of the best in the country, and big expectations are predictable.
While Meyer’s caution was expected, especially with seven starters to replace on defense, he says he prefers being in this position to being the underdog.
“I’d rather it be that way than saying we’re not going to be very good,” he said. “Some people say would you rather be the underdog or the favorite? We’d love to be the favorite all the time. That means we’ve got a good team. I don’t mind that at all.”
Ohio State begins spring practice March 5 and the players started working with strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti earlier this week.
Because of being banned from a bowl trip, OSU missed out on 15 pre-bowl practices. Making up for that lost time is one of Meyer’s priorities.
“We did change a bunch during the fall. We did a lot more with the young players than maybe I would have done if I knew I had the bowl practices,” Meyer said. “The way I look at it, we have to catch 15 practices by August or we’re not as good as our rivals, we’re not as good as the teams we have to beat. So we have to find those.
“We’re not legally allowed to have a whistle around our neck and coach them (before spring practice). If you want to be a very functional football team , there has to be some self-driven leadership. It will be interesting to see how it gets done because it’s on the players, the coaches can’t force them to do it,” he said.
Looking at OSU’s recruiting, Meyer said, “We like our class. As with most classes, how you finish is what determines if you love your class.”
Ohio State has verbal commitments from 22 players so far. Five of those committed players have already enrolled in school — cornerback Cam Burrows, cornerback Eli Apple, defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle, quarterback J.T. Barrett and defensive end Tyquan Lewis. Walk-on fullbacks William Houston and Devin Hill also have enrolled early.
OSU will have practices on March 5 and 7, then take 11 days off from organized practices before returning on March 19. The spring game is scheduled April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.