LOS ANGELES – Even though Ohio State is set to play in one of college football’s most prestigious bowl games against a fellow conference champion on Tuesday, many of the storylines leading up to the Rose Bowl have had little to do with the Buckeyes’ upcoming game and opponent.
Tuesday’s game will be Urban Meyer’s final game in his seven-year tenure as Ohio State’s head coach. It could be Dwayne Haskins’ last game as Ohio State’s quarterback, too. Ryan Day is preparing to become Ohio State’s new head coach after the Rose Bowl. Should the Buckeyes have made the College Football Playoff over Notre Dame or Oklahoma?
All of those topics have seemingly garnered more attention in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl than the game’s actual matchup, which will pit Ohio State, a 12-1 Big Ten champion, against Washington, a 10-3 Pac-12 champion.
The Buckeyes have sought to keep their focus squarely upon Tuesday’s matchup with Washington – and their goal to finish their season with a win – ever since they arrived in California last Tuesday night.
Meyer has been asked all week about his legacy, and whether he’s thought about how he’ll be perceived as he concludes his seven-year tenure coaching the Buckeyes. During his final press conference of Rose Bowl week on Monday, though, Meyer reiterated that he’s tried not to spend much time reflecting on his own career, instead investing his energy into preparing to play the Huskies.
“Just out of respect for our players and where we're at, I think that's inappropriate for me to even spend time thinking about that,” Meyer said. “Because I've asked our players to shut it down. There's girlfriends, families, uncles, everybody coming out to visit right now, and I've asked them to shut it down. There's been talk forcing people like our quarterback to make decisions about the NFL, and I've asked him to just shut it down until after this game.
“I'd be untruthful if I said it doesn't matter to me, because of course it does, and I think there will be an appropriate time to have those conversations,” Meyer continued. “That’s certainly not the day before or the week of or the three weeks prior to the biggest game of this team's year. So it does matter, but at the appropriate time. And that's certainly not now.”
As Meyer mentioned, Haskins is among several Ohio State players who have also had to deal with the potential distraction of deciding whether they should declare for the 2019 NFL draft or stay in school for another year.
Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones and running back Mike Weber already announced before the Rose Bowl that they would leave for the NFL after this season. But the rest of the Buckeyes’ possible early entrants – including wide receiver K.J. Hill, center Michael Jordan and defensive backs Jordan Fuller, Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette, among others – have all said they are keeping their focus on playing Washington and trying not to think about their futures until after Tuesday’s game.
“I haven't really thought about that,” Haskins said during Sunday’s Rose Bowl media day when asked about whether this week’s game would influence his decision to enter the NFL draft. “I feel like I have a long body of work, so really, the game is just another opportunity for me to showcase. I don't feel like it will make or break what I want to do as far as making a decision. I really just want to go out there and get a win and give it all for my teammates.”
Day hasn’t had the luxury of fully focusing on the Rose Bowl over the past month, as he had to hit the recruiting trail hard for the two weeks between being named Ohio State’s next head coach on Dec. 4 and the early signing period on Dec. 18. Since arriving in Los Angeles, though, Day has been locked in on his current role as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, doing what he needs to do to prepare the Buckeyes for Washington’s defense before preparing to begin his head coaching tenure.
“Things have been kind of business as usual, and then on (Jan. 2), we’ll go from there,” Day said. “Right now, it's all about winning this game.”
Ohio State’s other assistant coaches – many of whom could be seen studying their playbooks and preparing for Washington during Sunday’s Rose Bowl media day – have expressed a similar sentiment, even though most of them don’t even know yet whether they’ll be back with the Buckeyes next season.
“My focus right now is one game,” said defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. “And we need to play our best game of the year in this game, and it's going to be needed because this is one of the best offenses we've played all season.”
Some Ohio State players have expressed that they feel like the Buckeyes should have had the opportunity to play in Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinals, after Notre Dame suffered a 30-3 loss to Clemson and Oklahoma suffered a 45-34 loss to Oklahoma. Haskins doesn’t see that being a distraction, though, but an extra motivator for the Buckeyes to make a statement in their final game of the season.
“I watched the first half of the Clemson/Notre Dame game and then I turned it off. I didn't watch much of the Alabama game,” Haskins said. “I thought we should have been in it (the playoff), but take it out on Washington.”
Spending the week in California and getting to play in the Rose Bowl has already been a rewarding experience for Ohio State, especially Meyer, who has long dreamed of coaching in “The Granddaddy of Them All” but has never done so before.
The week will only be truly special for the Buckeyes, however, if they finish the week with a win – which is they’re investing their energy into making that happen, and trying to block out anything that could detract from that mission.
“I don't want to devalue the experience, but we're here to win a football game,” Meyer said. “And the best part of a bowl experience is doing your very best to go win, and winning it.”