After Ohio State’s first spring practice Monday, head coach, Urban Meyer, said he wants “an angry blue-collar team”. At times, he felt the squad last season lost their competitive fire, playing entitled instead of hungry.
Winning 12 straight games then heading into a season with tons of hype has got to have an effect on a team’s psyche. Whether they’ll admit it or not, the 2013 team played with a sense of entitlement
In stark contrast the 2012 Buckeyes were coming off the worst season since 1897, one that included losing the last four games of the year. Ending a season on such sour terms can only teach a group to take nothing for granted: a mantra that undoubtedly motivated players throughout the offseason.
That year, you saw the result. There was a sense the team felt the need to get better week-to-week and that’s exactly what they did. On paper, 12-0 looks phenomenal, but that glosses over the fact the Scarlet and Gray were trailing Miami of Ohio to start the second quarter of their season, were tied with UCF late into the first half, needed a touchdown at the end of the game to beat Cal, and trailed lowly UAB 9-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half.
The team took these lumps in stride (a constant reminder the squad wasn’t up to Buckeye standards) and utilized them to improve. Of course you know the rest. The group came together in East Lansing before reeling off their next seven W’s to finish the season unscathed. But, few of those contests were easy outings. Players found themselves embroiled in a shoot-out in Bloomington, turning water into wine against Purdue, beating the Badgers in overtime and finishing off Michigan in a way-too-close-for-comfort 26-21 tilt. The skating was rough for John Simon and Co., but that type of pressure breeds fierce competitors, just ask these guys.
Flash forward to 2013 and you have a team riding a hot-streak. They’re on the cover of every pre-season magazine, are ranked #2 in the country and have all of the national media outlets singing their praises. The problem: that kind of spotlight can spawn entitlement. It was evident in the first game of the season as the offense rolled up a 23-0 score in the first quarter, then put on the brakes. Entitlement is funny like that. The
team did the same thing just two weeks later, going up 21-0 before giving up two touchdowns to the Golden Bears in the first quarter.
Close wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa seemed to wake the Buckeyes up. Maybe they realized they weren’t good enough to play entitled football, maybe they realized once a team is down you have to end all hope, maybe they played less-talented teams, or maybe they just got better. Either way, the next four games saw the Scarlet and Gray win by a combined score of 221-63. The Buckeyes had a close shave in Ann-Arbor, but that was chalked up to a rivalry game, and just like that, the Scarlet and Gray were sitting at 24-0. Then entitlement crept back into the equation.
The B1G championship would be strength against strength: OSU’s offense vs. MSU’s defense. Both teams fought the conference’s national perception all season, but Ohio State was actually starting to change some trolls’ minds. Meanwhile the Spartans were positioned as a dominant one-loss defense who hadn’t played anyone worth mentioning.
Needless to say, the game followed a familiar college football story-arc. The team with all the hype lost, while the disrespected squad carried their coach (and trophy) off the field. Sound familiar?
Two straight losses to finish the season ends all that. Gone is the pressure of a historic win streak, gone is the feeling of invincibility, and gone is the sense of entitlement. The 2014 Buckeyes felt the harsh sting of “the losing end” and that could be enough to make all the difference.
Much like their 2012 brethren, they’ll take those losses with them into the weight room, they’ll carry those losses onto the practice field and they’ll remember those losses when they line up against Navy in Baltimore.
In the end, losing can do funny things for a team. If leveraged poorly, it can shake a team to the core, forcing them into a downward spiral. If managed correctly, it can transform entitlement into effort. The latter is what Meyer and his staff have in mind for the 2014 Buckeyes.