The quest for a national championship, or "The Chase" as Ohio State once called it, ended on a January night at AT&T Stadium, where black and gold confetti fluttered from the sky and the Buckeyes, who had overcome considerable obstacles in a season of highs and lows, gathered at centerfield to take turns hoisting the first-ever College Football Playoff national title trophy in the air.
Almost two months have passed since that moment in Dallas. In one way, it feels like it was years ago. In another, it feels like it was just last weekend Urban Meyer’s bunch beat Oregon to cap an impressive postseason run that included a monumental win over top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a throttling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
But now, with the first practice of spring ball set for Tuesday, Ohio State faces "The Grind" — its new mantra for 2015 — and a battle against contentment.
The Chase is complete. The new mantra... pic.twitter.com/RIkpauo2Iy— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) February 11, 2015
“I think we have to watch for complacency in the program, and we're going to watch that very closely,” Meyer said the morning after capturing the national title back in January.
“We have a little bit of transition of coaching staff. This is a very complicated machine, college football, when you start thinking about all the different hurdles that are along the journey … so we'll visit today at some point and start putting our calendar together and having conversations with players about futures. It's a very complicated machine.”
Indeed, the Buckeyes have a quarterback quandary for the ages in whether to start Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett next fall. While Jones would appear to be the only one healthy enough to take snaps at the position this spring, he is expected to face competition from Miller and Barrett, both of which were Heisman Trophy contenders at one point or another.
Also, Ohio State finds itself with two new assistants in Tim Beck, the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and Tony Alford, the running backs coach, who were hired in the offseason.
And perhaps most of all, the Buckeyes — now having claimed college football’s biggest prize — face a myriad of potential pitfalls that have doomed teams before in their respective title defenses. There's a reason it's relatively uncommon to see teams win back-to-back national championships, be it injuries or internal matters that lead to derailment.
"The good thing about Ohio State right now," Meyer said, "I don't feel the outside influence. That's the one negative of college football right now ... There's a lot of uncles, aunts, and so-called uncles and aunts and third parties trying to get involved, and the negative is a lot of times when you're that young, that influences you. So I'm worried about that with our program.
"I'm watching it very closely, and I'm going to visit with each individual because there's some very, very talented guys on our team right now, very talented," he continued. "The human element is very dangerous if those talented individuals open up to people that have their own desires ... they're trying to gain something from it."
To mitigate the chances of something like that happening, Meyer and his staff have instituted "The Grind" as a new rallying cry and a new reminder.
After the title game, Meyer deflected questions about pressures to repeat.
"The word repeat, we'll have that conversation, certainly not today," he said. "It's about enjoying it."
Two months later, the celebration is over.
"When they accomplish their mission, they celebrate. The next thing they do is learn from it, and then the final thing is they look forward to the next mission, next assignment. Right now we're in the celebration phase. Eventually we're going to get to the learn from it phase, and then the next guys like this wait for the next mission."
It formally begins Tuesday.