Disappointment can be a powerful drug. Urban Meyer is fully aware of that. Complacency can be an even more forceful poison.
"What are indicators of a team that's entitled? And what's the indicators of a team when you're a defending national champion, when you're this, this, this?" Meyer said Thursday. "Well, academics and effort and those type of things."
Ohio State, fresh off a national championship, became the first-even unanimous No. 1 team in the preseason AP college football poll ahead of the 2015 season. Expectations were astoundingly high, but wholly merited as a result of the way the Buckeyes tore through Wisconsin, Alabama and finally Oregon to reach the zenith of the sport.
“That's a very good indication of what kind of human beings we have on this team. So I would anticipate that we would play our tails off.”– Urban Meyer
Droves of talent returned to Meyer's club, with seemingly every major news organization, fans and others dubbing them the favorites to win it all again. A shocking 17-14 home loss to Michigan State Nov. 21 stunted that opportunity, but the No. 7 Buckeyes still earned a trip to a New Year's Six Bowl—the Fiesta Bowl against No. 8 Notre Dame.
"They are an excellent team," Meyer said of Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish.
But this team wasn't supposed to struggle offensively the way it did earlier in the year. It was supposed to dominant a weak schedule and win the Big Ten a second straight season, but didn't. Now, it's left with one final game that doesn't mean much other than to notch another win for a historic senior class. Meyer, though, thinks the Buckeyes will be ready like always even though they missed out on their goal. A 42-13 whipping of Michigan serves as his reason why.
"We had a great indicator, and that was we got on buses for three hours, we went up to a team that doesn't necessarily have a lot of affection for Ohio State, and played as hard as we possibly played and won a game against a very good team," Meyer said.
Such an impressive performance—especially offensively—against the Wolverines came at the right time for Meyer's team, but wasn't enough to get it an opportunity at defending its title. With so much NFL talent waiting to make the jump to the next level though, a game that could serve as a disappointment from missing out on the Playoff might not be priority No. 1 in the minds of the players.
Thursday, though, they denied such an idea.
"I don’t think so. It’s a big-time game like I said, it’s another big time-game," safety Vonn Bell said. "It’s the Fiesta Bowl, we’ll go out there with nice weather on one of the best fields in Glendale so it’s going to be all right."
Added Bell's defensive backfield teammate Tyvis Powell: "We look at it like this: Notre Dame is a really good team. They’ve got a bunch talent on their team. I think one of the coaches was telling us that they have nine draftable players or something on their team. So it’s going to be a great game."
Notre Dame, at 10-2, narrowly missed a chance at making the College Football Playoff as well. The two losses by the Fighting Irish this season were to Clemson and Stanford, each by two points.
"You have a team that could be playing for the national title," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes could be too, but got the sour taste out of their mouths by defeating their rival in the regular season finale one week after laying an egg against Michigan State. Even without much more to play for outside of pride and to finish the season on a high note, though, they're confident there won't be a letdown since a chance at a national championship is gone.
"That's a very good indication of what kind of human beings we have on this team," Meyer said of the Michigan win. "So I would anticipate that we would play our tails off."