SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Urban Meyer followed his team off the 747 and onto the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, ready to briefly face the media under a week before its final game of the season.
Sunday marked the official opening of Fiesta Bowl week, and Meyer's final chance to coach a group of players he's largely been with for two straight seasons.
"We had a good trip, a practice this morning, we understand what this bowl game is and we take it very serious," Meyer said.
Ohio State takes on a solid football team in the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, led by Brian Kelly. The two teams last met 10 years ago in the same bowl, with Ohio State wasting Brady Quinn and Charlie Weis, 34-20.
The 2015 version of the Buckeye football program was supposed to repeat as national champions, enjoying a return of the majority of its roster from last year's title team. It lost a game to Michigan State, so this week represents a worthy consolation prize.
It's Meyer's—and Kelly's, who lost two games by four points in 2015—job to make sure their teams know that and remain eager to play.
"I think Ohio State, if you look at, they had one loss this season to Michigan State on the last play of the game," Kelly said Saturday upon his arrival to the desert. "So as I have talked to our football team, we think we are playing the best team in the country."
Meyer's team looked that way in a 42-13 thumping of rival Michigan the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but it wasn't enough to get a shot a winning the Big Ten and advancing to the College Football Playoff.
The head football boss in Columbus, though, believes the good vibes from the win over the Wolverines will continue.
"When you get picked at this kind of bowl game, one of the top bowl games in the country and against the opponent you’re going to play, I have a lot of confidence that we’ll play very hard," Meyer said.
Monday marks the first set of practices in Arizona before the 1 p.m. (11 a.m. local) kickoff New Year's Day between the Buckeyes and Irish. Meyer has a few more days to put together a plan to deal with a lack of depth on the interior defensive line—and to make sure his team enjoys the trip to sunny Phoenix with winning on the brain.
"We have a fine line of making sure that our players get to enjoy, some of these young men have never been out to this part of the country, to enjoy the people, the hospitality, but we also we have a job to do against a very, very good football team," Meyer said.