COLUMBUS — The celebration of Ohio State’s 12-0 season was just getting underway around Ohio Stadium and in the many other places where OSU football victories are celebrated when the talk turned to what the chances are that the Buckeyes can go unbeaten again next year.
Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort was cautious when that question was posed to him 45 minutes after the clock ran out on Ohio State’s 26-21 win over Michigan on Saturday.
“There’s not much more we could do to one-up these seniors,” the junior from Toledo said.
Most athletes, when given the choice between bravado and modesty have been schooled to go with the less bold approach. Maybe that’s what Mewhort was doing.
Obviously, he and his returning teammates think they can win them all again. But they know it’s hard and it might come off as getting ahead of themselves or as egotistical to talk about another unbeaten season so soon.
But here’s another way to look at it. Urban Meyer took over an Ohio State football program full of players he didn’t recruit, that was still in shock from losing its legendary leader and had some serious deficiencies in talent and dedication and they went 12-0.
Ohio State wasn’t a train wreck but it was a train stalled on the tracks in the middle of an intersection the day he got to Columbus.
When Meyer gets a roster full of his type of players — and a 12-0 season certainly makes Columbus an even more desirable destination for recruits than it already was — just how good could Ohio State be?
Nine of the players who started on offense for Ohio State on Saturday will be back. The defense loses seven starters, including three of the starting linemen and maybe four if Johnathan Hankins leaves early for the NFL.
Finding replacements for those players certainly will not be easy, though young defensive linemen like freshmen Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence filled in well when John Simon missed Saturday’s game with a knee injury.
Ohio State won or shared seven Big Ten titles in nine seasons from 2002 to 2010, including the vacated championship from 2010, won one national championship and played for two others with Jim Tressel as its coach.
The Buckeyes were a colossus, so it is not a huge journey to get back to the top.
But the best might be yet to come. Meyer, who won two national championships at Florida, including a 41-14 beatdown of Ohio State in the 2006 season, obviously is a great coach and a great recruiter.
His 12 straight wins match the best start ever by an Ohio State football coach, tying him with Carroll Widdoes in 1943-44.
What he brings along with the winning is a bit of an attitude. He doesn’t want to win, he wants to win emphatically. And recruit and train in the offseason and do everything else the same way.
Saturday, he finished a perfect season by beating Ohio State’s biggest rival and the other team with the biggest historical claim to being Big Ten royalty.
Michigan is trying to get back to the level it occupied for almost 40 years from the time Bo Schembechler arrived until the time Lloyd Carr left.
By winning this year, Ohio State and Meyer sent a message that in the race to get back to the top, OSU is in the lead and has recovered from its down time faster than Michigan.
Earlier this season, Meyer said he wanted to turn Ohio Stadium into an inferno on game days.
Considering the current weakness of the Big Ten, he might just do the same thing to the entire league.