When a team with national championship expectations fails to make the College Football Playoff, there’s reason to question how motivated that team will be for its bowl game.
Urban Meyer’s announcement earlier this month that he will retire following the Rose Bowl, however, should ensure that Ohio State won’t lack any effort in its final game of the season.
No, Ohio State won’t have a chance to win a national title this year. Even with the rich history that comes with playing in the Rose Bowl, a game nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All,” there’s no question that the Buckeyes would rather be playing in the Orange Bowl or Cotton Bowl – this year’s two College Football Playoff semifinals.
Even so, the Buckeyes should work as hard as they ever have to defeat Washington on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California, because they want Meyer – who has won 82 games in his seven years at Ohio State, and lost just nine – to go out with a victory.
“It’s very important,” said Ohio State wide receiver Johnnie Dixon. “We come here to win games. When one of your toughest soldiers is calling it quits, we need to go out with a bang.”
There are different ways that the Buckeyes could respond to Meyer’s retirement. They could allow themselves to be disappointed or distracted by his imminent departure from Ohio State. But players said this past week that that hasn’t happened.
“Coach Meyer would be the first to tell you, the train doesn't really stop for anybody,” wide receiver Terry McLaurin said. “Obviously he's a legend in this business, and there's going to be that missing piece. But we have a game to win, and he didn't want that to take away from us winning this game. That's why I feel like he also announced it as early as he did. But there hasn't really been any long faces. We're focused on trying to beat Washington.”
The Buckeyes could also feel more pressure going into the Rose Bowl, knowing that it will be Meyer’s final game on the sidelines, and that’s not always a good thing. Wide receiver Parris Campbell, though, believes the desire to send Meyer out victorious has given the Buckeyes positive energy.
“Pressure? No. Excitement? Yes,” Campbell said. “I think we're an even-keeled team. I think the higher the game, the better we perform. I don't necessarily want to call it pressure. I just say we're more excited to get the win.”
Current offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day will officially take over as Ohio State’s head coach the day after the Rose Bowl, and a win in Pasadena could also give the Buckeyes positive momentum to start off his tenure. Middle linebacker Tuf Borland, though, said the opportunity to win one last game for Meyer is all the motivation the Buckeyes need.
“Just to show how much he means to us, just the impact that he has on our lives off the field, it’s the least we could do,” Borland said. “He wouldn’t want us to say this, but it’s sending out Coach Meyer the right way. When that time comes with Coach Day, we will be ready. But we are going to send Coach Meyer out the right way.”
“We come here to win games. When one of your toughest soldiers is calling it quits, we need to go out with a bang.”– Johnnie Dixon on the importance of winning Urban Meyer's final game
Another question that always comes up before a team plays in a non-playoff bowl is whether any of its top NFL prospects will sit out the game in order to avoid the risk of injury before the draft. That said, Ohio State’s most likely candidates to do so – defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones and quarterback Dwayne Haskins – have already both said that they will play in the Rose Bowl.
Dixon said he does not expect any of his teammates to sit out the Rose Bowl, and he believes one reason for that – as opposed to last year, when Denzel Ward opted not to play in the Cotton Bowl – is because they want to play one more game for Meyer.
“We have talked to some guys about it; just asking their opinion about it. Everybody’s going to stay in,” Dixon said. “It’s more important because it’s Coach Meyer’s last game.”
Meyer isn’t the only one, though, that the Buckeyes are motivated to send off with a win. They also want their seniors, like Dixon, McLaurin and Campbell, to finish their careers with a victory, too.
“Of course it means a lot to me, but it’s their fifth year, their last game as a Buckeye,” Haskins said. “And to have coach Meyer come to our house and recruit us since we were sophomores in high school, we just want to send him out on the right note.”