Fresh off national championship, Michigan's rival faces own obstacles
CHICAGO — Urban Meyer stood at the podium during Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on Thursday afternoon, commenting on the suspension of four of his players for Ohio State’s season opener against Virginia Tech. His team is coming off of a national championship season, one in which it snuck into the College Football Playoffs and defied the SEC kingpins that had long controlled the sport in January.
If the theme of the offseason for Michigan has been building a better future, then the focus for the Buckeyes has been solidifying the present to the point that it can withstand the repeated attacks of rapacious underdogs.
Thursday’s announcement of the suspensions of defensive end Joey Bosa and wide receivers Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, reportedly for marijuana use and academic negligence, represented a threat to the possibility of a repeat.
But Meyer did not seem particularly concerned by the suspensions, noting that he supported them and that the season must go on.
“Whether it's a sprained ankle or stuff, you try to create a culture where teams know how to move forward and not concern yourself,” Meyer said. “When we lost (quarterback Braxton Miller) 10 days before the first game, you lose (quarterback J.T. Barrett) a week before the Big Ten Championship game, you push forward.”
The Ohio State players in attendance Thursday acknowledged that the stakes have changed after last season, that the challenges in overcoming adversity are different than they were before. The team is constantly reminded of its success, said offensive lineman Taylor Decker, and the coaching staff and the older members of the team try to ensure that it doesn’t create too many enlarged egos.
Meyer insisted that complacency has not overtaken his team — despite what some thought the suspensions might indicate — pointing to his team’s overall academic achievement and work in the weight room during the offseason. The suspensions, though, will not be the end of Meyer’s tribulations this offseason. Like Harbaugh, he must pick a quarterback.
With the news that Braxton Miller is moving to wide receiver, the competition to play starting quarterback for the defending national champions has been whittled down to two. Barrett, the Heisman contender who came out of nowhere last season after he replaced the injured Miller, will battle against Cardale Jones, who finished off the team’s national title run after Barrett’s season-ending ankle injury against Michigan. Meyer said that he will keep score of “everything” in an effort to determine his starter.
Neither quarterback contender was in attendance at media days. At least publicly, not everyone within the Buckeye program is overly concerned with which quarterback wins the job. Decker said he didn’t care either way.
“I’m going to do my job, when every play is called I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do and I’m going to count on whoever’s at the quarterback position or the wide receiver position, what have you, to do their job,” Decker said. “And when everybody does it, it’s a machine. It’s a machine and it can’t be stopped.”
That will be Jim Harbaugh’s task in the season’s final game in four months. But for now, in the heat of the summer, even the machine is intrigued by the possibility of an improved Michigan. One of its members even hopes Harbaugh can bring Michigan back to prominence.
“I really do hope he does because that’s good for our conference, that’s especially good for our rivalry, and it’s good for us,” Decker said. “That’s a fun game to play in, especially when they’ve played well all year.”