CHICAGO — As a coach who had already won two national championships at Florida before adding a third with Ohio State last season, Urban Meyer knows the potential pitfalls from returning off the high of a title.
Players can get lazier on the field or in the weight room, or get full of themselves and get into trouble. Or, oftentimes, the spark that drove the team during the title season can be absent in the next.
So after OSU completed “The Chase” by defeating Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January, Meyer’s new quest began: to steer his team past the possibility of the next-season hangover.
“Every coach is concerned about (complacency),” Meyer said on Thursday during his opening press conference at the 2015 Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “There’s no perfect team. There’s no perfect program. Everyone deals with ‘stuff.’ When you’re Ohio State or some of these other big-time programs, ‘stuff’ becomes a major deal.”
After Meyer’s first national championship with Florida in 2006, in which the Gators compiled a 13-1 record, the team came back the next year with a 9-4 regression.
“Maybe it was a mistake in ‘06, after we won it, we were like ‘Well, we’re playing with house money now, it’s all going to get really easy,’” Meyer said. “It actually gets more complicated.”
Senior linebacker Joshua Perry said one of his jobs as a leader of the team is to make sure the Buckeyes avoid that trap of lacking the spark that winning teams need, but he is confident that they will be successful because they overcame the other side of that situation last season.
“If we start at the bottom, there’s human nature where you’re always complaining about some of the things that never go your way, and then on the way there, things get tough, and there’s that human nature of ‘Man, it would be really easy to just kind of be here and be average,’” Perry said Thursday. “And then when you get to the top there’s the human nature of getting complacent.
“But I think we fought through all these things and we’re able to get to a certain point, so I think you’ll see us continue to fight, continue to do what we did.”
Meyer cited three indicators that he and his coaching staff keep an eye on to make sure the players are staying focused and driven: academic, training and social.
“We had the highest graduation rate in the history of Ohio State football,” Meyer said about the academic aspect. “I don’t want to just buzz right over that. So that’s one indicator that our guys are locked in.”
“The second thing is the weight room,” Meyer said. “I have the best coach in America (in strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti). We evaluate everything.
“And then the social element, that’s obviously the one that you keep one eye open, and we’ve been relatively good.”
However, the team’s “relatively good” mark took a hit when earlier on Thursday it was announced that four players — junior defensive end Joey Bosa, H-backs redshirt sophomore Jalin Marshall and junior Dontre Wilson and redshirt senior wide receiver Corey Smith — were suspended for the opening game at Virginia Tech for a violation of an OSU Department of Athletics policy.
Perry said while he is disappointed in the actions of his teammates, he does not think it has any relation to the “top of the world” feeling from being national champions.
“I don’t think that has to do with losing an edge, I think it just has to do with guys being guys and making a mistake,” Perry said. “There’s no lost edge. We’re all hungry. Guys are getting after it.
“We worked so hard this summer; (the coaches) got after us harder than they’ve gotten after us in a while. And we responded to it, and I think that’s the important thing, so moving forward we’re going to be prepared for a lot of these things up ahead.”
Despite the infractions, Meyer remained upbeat on Thursday about the place his team is in heading into fall camp in August.
“The indicators other than (the suspensions) has been not good, it’s been great, and tomorrow’s another day, so we’ll just keep pushing forward,” he said.
OSU will look to continue pushing forward to Sept. 7, when it is set to travel to Blacksburg, Va., to open the regular season against the Hokies. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.