As Meyer Reflects on Perfection, He’s Already Worried About Next Year
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has coached some damn good football teams in his 11 years as a head coach. He won a pair of BCS national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008, and of course his two undefeated teams were ones that did not take home the crystal football.
There’s nothing Meyer can do to change that fact about his 12-0 football team this season, but he would put the Buckeyes up against anyone after their 26-21 victory over the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.
“There’s no con,” Meyer quickly replied to a question about the pros and cons of this team being 12-0 in a year with no postseason.
“There’s no con. Sometimes you get emotional and just pop off at the mouth. I try not to do that after games, but I really believe we can play with any team in the country. That’s all I can tell you.”
A month ago, Meyer would not have agreed with his own sentiment. The Buckeyes were a fragile team that nearly blew a huge lead in the fourth quarter of a 52-49 win at Indiana.
There was no talk of an AP National Title as Meyer tried to keep the ship upright heading into the month of November, but it’s impossible to compare the team that beat Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan down the stretch with that team on the field in Bloomington.
“Five weeks ago I would have said we better learn how to tackle, we better learn how to leverage the ball,” Meyer added.
“We have a fullback playing linebacker, but guess what, that fullback is pretty good now. This team has grown to the point it can play with any team in the country.”
This team may not be on the same playing field in terms of talent level as the teams Meyer coached to BCS national championships in 2006 and 2008, but they possessed an abstract quality that most coaches only dream of having.
“The memory I’ll always have of this season, without getting overly dramatic, is just the complete selflessness,” Meyer said Monday.
“Arguably the best I’ve ever seen. You always talk about ‘team’ – it’s a cliché every coach dreams of. You’re always taught as a young child to put the team before me, but how many times does that actually happen? It’s rare.”
Meyer and strength coach Mickey Marotti have discussed the idea of dedicating a entire wall in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to this 2012 team – first as a way to honor a senior class that quickly became dear to Meyer’s heart, but also as an example to future teams about what it takes to accomplish what this group did.
“This group is just incredible character, determination and genuine love for one another,” Meyer said.
“For those people who never played the game of football, you’re probably like ‘what the hell are you talking about.’ It’s real, I witnessed it. I saw a team that had holes and filled the holes.”
Looking Ahead to 2013
Next year’s team could be even more talented, especially if Braxton Miller can develop his fundamentals and footwork during the offseason, but that doesn’t mean it will be a better team than the one Meyer coached in his first season at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes will only have two key players to replace on offense – receiver Jake Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel – but the defense will have some major holes to fill, especially in the front seven.
“I’ve been thinking about that since the final whistle Saturday,” Meyer admitted.
“The linebacker position has to get right. That’s the weakest area of our team right now, and I’m not talking about Ryan Shazier. I think he’s an excellent football player.”
Meyer said he intends to keep his entire coaching staff intact for next season, which includes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel. Fickell will have to find replacements for both Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino at the linebacker position, and the Buckeyes could be looking at an entirely new group on the defensive line next year.
They graduate both ends – Simon and Nathan Williams – along with starting nose tackle Garrett Goebel. The key will be junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who along with cornerback Bradley Roby, will have to make decision about his future in the coming weeks.
“I don’t know that yet,” Meyer said about the status of Hankins and Roby.
“We have a team meeting today at two.”
If the Buckeyes are able to keep those two, they could be looking at a preseason ranking in the top two or three of college football for next season, but Meyer is already worried about the complacency of a 12-0 season.
“If they're not angry and they're complacent, this team is average as dirt, just like any team,” he said Monday.
“If you don't have a chip on your shoulder … you see across the country there are teams that are highly-ranked and with NFL players and they lose three, four, five, six games. And I know exactly why. It's because you've got a team that doesn't have an edge.”
If year one was any indication, Meyer will figure out a way to get exactly what he wants.
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