Ohio State seniors with chance to fulfill promises of yesteryear
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012
Updated: Saturday, November 24, 2012 09:11
Urban Meyer’s eyes are glassy and it looks like he’s about to cry.
But the thin wrinkles that gently line the 48-year-old’s face are unwavering and his face won’t crinkle up into a ball of emotion.
Not today, at least.
With the exception of a polite smile here and there, the crevices on either corner of his mouth don’t crack.
His face is stern and looks to be as focused as it seems it’s ever been.
Like his expression, the Ohio State football coach’s voice doesn't change much, either. It stays level, steady, unwavering amid the frenzy of reporters in the team’s meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during his weekly press conference Monday.
“Right here is the team meeting room,” Meyer told the reporters, “and it's electric in here when you start talking about this game — where we're at right now.
“Will we be defined by this one game? You usually are.”
It’s Michigan week — or, as Meyer has instructed his players to say, it’s “That Team Up North” week. And it’s his first taste as a head coach in a rivalry that’s as bitter as any other in the country.
For his seniors, though — 21 of them to be exact — it’s their last punch at the Wolverines — one that comes a year after suffering the program’s first loss to Michigan since 2003.
In every way imaginable, it’s their last hurrah. The last game they’ll ever play in the confines of Ohio Stadium. The last time they’ll ever take the field as Buckeyes.
NCAA violations and their subsequent consequences have ensured that Saturday’s game against Michigan is the end of a road that began with hopes of national titles.
Such aspirations will never come to fruition — but the 109th edition of The Game presents a chance at OSU’s first perfect campaign since 2002.
Win or lose, four and five-year-long careers clad in the Scarlet and Gray will end when the clock on the Horseshoe’s massive jumbotron strikes zero. And Meyer, who was hired as the program’s orchestrator last year, is well aware of it.
In what have been called the glory years of OSU football, expectations in Columbus might have never been higher than during former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel’s 10-year tenure as the figurehead of what was arguably one of the most consistent college football programs in the country.
Meyer’s 21 seniors — including those redshirt seniors who started their career in 2008 — were brought to Columbus to not only guarantee that kind of success continue, but to take it a step further.
The 2002 season had given the Buckeye faithful a national title and 14-0 perfect season.
Prior to the launch of the 2008 campaign, Tressel had amassed his way to a 73-16 mark, four Big Ten championships and five top-five finishes in the Associated Press' top-25 poll.
And only once, in 2003, did the Wolverines get the best of him. That year, though, still gave OSU fans a BCS Fiesta Bowl trophy. So did 2005.
The 2006 and 2007 seasons gave them back-to-back national title appearances — but no hardware, no rings.The 2006 team — arguably Tressel’s most dominant crew, was stomped, 41-14, by Meyer’s Florida Gators. A similar fate awaited the Buckeyes’ 2007 squad when LSU handled them a 38-24 loss in New Orleans' Superdome (known today as the Mercedez-Benz Superdome).
What’s now viewed as remarkably unprecedented success still fell short of what might’ve been unrealistic expectations in Columbus. None of it ever seemed to be quite good enough for a fan base wanting to flex its alpha male muscles for the rest of the nation to see. But they were expectations that defensive back Zach Domicone knew came with the territory—expectations that needed to be met.
“The expectation was that we were gonna come in and win championships,” the redshirt senior said. “We were gonna win Big Ten championships, we were gonna beat Michigan every year and we were gonna win national championships.”
The subsequent rings, gold-pants charms from beating Michigan and wins likely speak for themselves.
For Domicone and other fifth-year seniors, 2008 lived up to the team's status quo of at least winning a conference championship.
But the weight of Big Ten titles and BCS bowl wins in 2009 and 2010 were almost convincing enough to suggest that this group of seniors had lived up to the lofty heights set before them.
Even an impressive Jan. 1, 2010 Rose Bowl victory before a Pasadena, Calif., backdrop wasn’t a national championship.
A year later, the Buckeyes almost survived the summit for perfection save for a 31-18 shellacking at the hands of Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.