COLUMBUS – It’s easy to forget that a year ago today, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett had never thrown a pass in a college football game and Cardale Jones had put the ball in the air twice in his career.
It’s easy to forget Ezekiel Elliott went into last season with 262 yards rushing in his career and 162 of them came against Florida A&M, one of the worst teams ever to appear on an Ohio State football schedule.
At this time a year ago, Michael Thomas had caught three passes in his career. He finished last season with 54 catches, nine of them for touchdowns.
Vonn Bell, who intercepted six passes last season, had one before last year. Darron Lee had never played a college game before he produced 81 tackles, 16.5 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks in 2014.
There might be a message in this beyond the obvious one that Ohio State recruits very, very well.
A thought to keep in mind while debating if OSU can repeat as national champion is that there are surprises out there in every season.
Maybe there are more players at Ohio State ready to make the major leaps the quarterbacks, Elliott, Thomas, Lee and others made. Or, more ominously, maybe there are players currently flying under the radar at other schools with national championship aspirations who will make the same kind of improvements this fall.
Coach Urban Meyer, who declared the pursuit of a national championship “The Chase,” has put the label of “The Grind” on this year’s attempt to repeat, though he says words like “repeat” and “defend” will not be heard in the locker room, in the meeting rooms or on the sidelines.
Meyer is a legendary detail guy and earlier this summer at the Big Ten media days, he revealed another cue he studies to see if his players are ready to do their job. “The Grind” starts even before they put their helmets on for practice.
“One of the things I like to do is stand and watch guys come out for practice and I send guys back who don’t have the right look. Last year there weren’t many times where I sent them back. They enjoyed the practices, they enjoyed the grind. They embraced it,” Meyer said.
“I tell them if they don’t like it, fake it. If you’re walking out in 100 degree heat in full pads and you’ve got a sour look on your face, you’re getting back in there. I tell them to fake it or you’re not going to practice.”
This and countless other reminders to keep working hard and focus on the present might seem like something which would create the danger of extracting much of the joy from a season. But linebacker Joshua Perry says that’s not going to happen.
“It better be fun because we had a lot of fun last season. I think it would be awful if we didn’t have fun this year,” Perry said.
“Some of the guys we have in the locker room, they will find a way to make it fun — Tyvis Powell, Darron Lee, Joey (Bosa) — they will find a way to make it fun. Pressure to be champions again isn’t coming from us, it’s coming from everybody else talking about it.
“We have a lot of guys who really like having pressure on them and being depended on,” he said.
And, if last year is any indicator, maybe there are people who can perform under pressure and be depended upon who aren’t even being talked about now.
Will “The Grind” produce the desired result? Will the Buckeyes be a team of destiny two years in a row? And if they are, then what will Meyer make the theme of the 2016 season?