Better Than Perfect? OSU Coaches Say It Will Take More Than Just Talent
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is an inherent problem with going undefeated, as it's generally impossible to improve upon. Usually, the year following an undefeated season is going to be a letdown simply because going undefeated is hard enough to do once, let alone immediately doing it again.
Because of their postseason ban a year ago, the best last year's Ohio State team could do was go 12-0. This year, however, there are no limits placed on the possibilities.
Expectations are at a frenzied pace in Columbus, but people need to remember that a better team doesn't necessarily lead to a better record. The Buckeyes were 6-0 in games decided by seven points or less last season, after going 2-5 in such games in 2011. The point being that the ball doesn't always bounce the way that you need it to.
But the fact remains, if Ohio State is better than they were a year ago, those close wins shouldn't be so close anymore. However, talent alone won't be enough to make sure that happens.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"I think talent-wise, it's never going to be a problem," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said of his team.
"You lose some really good players, but I think you're going to have guys that are every bit as talented. Now they'll be younger, but the key is how do they come together. That's where the leadership comes in. That's where Coach is so good, and that's where most of his focus is on, motivation and leadership. How do you get those guys to rally around the ones that you want them to, but also the ones they believe in.
"That's what we've got to see. Because when the adversity hits, that's when you see it. You thrive on that, you rally around that. That's what makes your team. It's not talent. It's how those guys all come together and gel together. That's the beauty of going out and playing, whether you're supposed to win or you're not supposed to win. Whether you're a good team on week one, two or three, you really want to be a great team on week 12."
It's the intangibles that will ultimately determine whether or not Ohio State is better than they were ago. After all, it was the intangibles that got them to 12-0 last year. The 2012 team was certainly not the most talented team that Ohio State has had in the last decade, but going 12-0 was something that only one other Buckeye team had done in the previous 10 years.
However, with the infusion of youth that Fickell is talking about comes the worry that young players will wrongly assume that success is something that is inevitable.
The 2012 team featured players who had worked for the past four years through all kinds of adversity just to have their careers end without a bowl appearance. That kind of determination and dedication takes more than just talent.
Dealing with adversity can sometimes be easier than dealing with success because adversity doesn't give anybody a chance to pat themselves on the back or admire all of their accomplishments. Dealing with success, however, can sometimes spout bad habits.
"I don't know if it's harder," receivers coach Zach Smith said of dealing with success, rather than adversity.
"I don't know if either is harder. They're both hard. Especially with the mentality and personality of your team and each individual player. If it's a young team, it's hard to deal with success because they naturally think—it's like being born on third base. You have success but you forget what got you there.
"Or a lot of times a class leaves that really built the foundation for that success and everyone else thinks, 'Well, that wasn't that hard.' But they don't realize what went into it. Youth and experience can add to the problem of success. But adversity or failure is not easy to deal with either, depending on the mentality and maturity of your team."
Reminding this team of what got the last team to 12-0 will be the responsibility of both the coaches and the players. Last season, the complacency questions for Urban Meyer were constant.
"How will you keep your players motivated without a postseason to point to?" he was constantly asked. The first few times he had to answer the question, he'd simply say that he didn't really know.
Obviously, whatever method he employed worked. The belief by many is that the method that he employs this time around will be effective as well.
But will it be effective enough for the 2013 team to be better than the 2012 team?
"At Florida, year after year we were successful because he [Meyer] is so profound at managing a team, and he's doing it again this year," Smith said.
"You don't go to practice and feel like, 'We went 12-0, we're gonna win it all.' That's not what it feels like. You go out to practice saying, 'We've got a ways to go, we've got to work.' And everyone feels that way, the coaches, the players, everyone."
"The 2013 team doesn't have anything to do with the record [last year]," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs added.
"It has everything to do with individual improvement, how the kids come together and what the leadership does with this team between now and when we come back into camp in August. If we're not any better in August than we are today then we've lost a golden opportunity. If we continue to grow, enhance and improve, if we stay healthy, if we all buy into what the head coach is selling, I don't think there's any question we can be a really, really good football team."
But can they be better than perfect?
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