ANAHEIM, Calif. – When a team enters a season with expectations of competing for a national championship, going to a bowl game without championship implications can feel like a consolation prize.
Urban Meyer knows that from experience. During his first media availability of Rose Bowl week at Disneyland on Wednesday, Meyer thought back on his 2009 team at Florida – which had won the national championship one year earlier, and returned Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow – and how the Gators lacked excitement to play in the Sugar Bowl (even though they went on to win that game, 51-24, over Cincinnati).
“We went to the Sugar Bowl, and it was like it was not good enough,” Meyer said.
So Meyer was “really worried,” he acknowledged Wednesday, that Ohio State would not be excited about playing in the Rose Bowl after being left out of the College Football Playoff – for the second year in a row – despite losing only one game, winning the Big Ten championship and entering the season with very real national title hopes.
Those worries have been alleviated over the past few weeks, however, as Meyer has instead seen a team that is excited about finishing its season in Pasadena and doing everything it can to try to cap off its season with a Rose Bowl victory over Washington.
“I think I’d be shocked if our guys didn’t play well,” Meyer said. “We’re playing a very good team. And I’ve been a part of some teams where you’re worried about that. I think our guys, because they really truly care each other, they want to win this game.”
While the College Football Playoff has taken center stage in today’s college football world, winning the Rose Bowl was once the ultimate goal of a Big Ten team. After the Buckeyes found out on Dec. 2 that they would be playing in this year’s Rose Bowl, Meyer talked with his team about the historical significance of the game, which is nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All.” Meyer found out, though, that his team didn’t need much education on the Rose Bowl, even though Ohio State hadn’t made a trip to Pasadena since playing Oregon nine years ago.
“Not ’til after, because everybody’s shooting for the playoff, but afterwards, I did,” Meyer said of talking to his team about playing in the Rose Bowl. “And I was pleasantly surprised that everybody knew about it.”
“I think I’d be shocked if our guys didn’t play well. We’re playing a very good team. And I’ve been a part of some teams where you’re worried about that. I think our guys, because they really truly care each other, they want to win this game.”– Urban Meyer on what he expects to see from his team in the Rose Bowl
While there has been a rising trend in college football over the last few years of NFL draft prospects choosing to skip non-playoff bowl games – four Michigan players, for example, have decided not to play in the Peach Bowl – none of Ohio State’s players are expected to sit out of the Rose Bowl, with Dre’Mont Jones and Mike Weber already saying they will play despite announcing they will enter the 2019 NFL draft, and Meyer believes understanding of the bowl’s historical significance played a part in that.
“Our players know all about the Rose Bowl. They appreciate and respect the tradition of it,” Meyer said. “And I’m sure that’s why all those guys are playing.”
Neither Meyer nor anyone else can know for sure how Ohio State will play in its final game of the season until the game actually kicks off at Rose Bowl Stadium on Tuesday. In the team’s first practice of the week at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on Wednesday, Meyer said the Buckeyes didn’t look as sharp as they need to as the week progresses.
“We dropped far too many passes in practice, which is expected. We can’t drop them tomorrow,” Meyer said. “It’s not our first January 1st or big-time bowl game, so you just try to get Christmas out of them. That’s what I tell our coaches, ‘Get Christmas out of them.’”
Overall, though, Meyer is pleased with what he has seen from his team over the past three-and-a-half weeks, and he is confident that the Buckeyes’ team leaders – including captains Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin and Jordan Fuller, who also met with the media at Disneyland on Wednesday – will make sure their teammates get refocused if they show any signs of being disengaged.
“I’m going to rely on those guys,” Meyer said. “If I see something that doesn’t look right, we’ll address it, like we always do. But to this point, we’ve only been here one day. So far, so good.