The Buckeyes completed the chase, but a new journey started right away.
It all began for Ohio State when Alabama beat Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship in Urban Meyer’s first year as the OSU coach. After that game, Meyer realized the Buckeyes needed to step up in order to find a way to the top.
“I saw a team (Alabama) that I thought — obviously it just dominated in the national championship game, and they looked better than we did,” Meyer said Monday. “So somehow we had to get to that level, and that was the chase.”
The chase Meyer had in mind back in January 2013 ended when the Buckeyes beat Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, even beating the Crimson Tide along the way.
But championship aside, a new chase started for Meyer and his team as soon as the 2014-15 season ended.
During a Tuesday press conference, Meyer said he expects a strong team to be back for a new chase next season, and stressed he wants the Buckeyes to continue to work for what they earn.
“I think we’ll be very good,” Meyer said. “I think we have to watch for complacency in the program, and we’re going to watch that very closely.”
He added the first step toward preparing for another championship run will be laying out the path with the help of assistant athletic director for football sports performance Mickey Marotti.
“My right-hand man is Mickey Marotti, so we’ll visit today at some point and start putting our calendar together and having conversations with players about futures,” Meyer said Tuesday. “It’s a very complicated machine.”
With the help of staffers like Marotti, Meyer has made that machine run smoothly, despite hitting multiple speed bumps along the way.
Senior quarterback Braxton Miller — one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy heading into the season — tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder less than two weeks before the opener. Then, with redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett under center, the Buckeyes lost to unranked Virgina Tech in week two.
Ten games later, Barrett was a Heisman candidate and OSU seemed to be streaking into College Football Playoff consideration. But Barrett fractured his ankle against Michigan in the regular-season finale and redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones was thrust into the spotlight for the first time in his career, Twitter gaffes aside.
But long story short, Jones found a way to succeed, and helped the Buckeyes shock the world against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and then Alabama and Oregon in the playoffs.
While Jones was thrust into the chase itself late in the game, he said he witnessed the beginning of it as soon as he arrived in Columbus.
“(Meyer’s) first team meeting was actually my first day on campus as well,” Jones said Monday. “And the way he attacked the team and let us know it was time for a change and it started at the top with the culture.”
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who arrived at OSU a year after Meyer, said the Ashtabula, Ohio, native sparked the team to rise to a new level.
“I think the biggest thing with coach Meyer, he just demands excellence out of everybody, every aspect of your life,” Elliott said after the championship game. “When he demands that every day from you, you don’t have a choice but to change.”
Now with his sights set on the same destination, but in a future location, Meyer said he’s not yet sure what exactly to expect next season.
“Tough questions, man. We just won a championship,” he said.
The Buckeyes are set to open up the 2015 season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va., and Meyer said he at least knows the Buckeyes will be fielding a talented team of champions. But beyond that, the three-time national champion’s focus was on the moment at hand.
“I’ve got a bunch of really good players. I love our coaching staff,” he said Tuesday. “The word ‘repeat,’ we’ll have that conversation, certainly not today. It’s about enjoying it.”