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Published: Friday, 7/27/2012

Meyer says this year still counts for Ohio State

Buckeyes look to win Leaders Division

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
As the Buckeyes open preseason camp next week, Meyer believes a program coming off its first losing season since 1988 is in a "very positive" place. As the Buckeyes open preseason camp next week, Meyer believes a program coming off its first losing season since 1988 is in a "very positive" place.
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CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer is tired of hearing about the Year 2 Effect.

Yes, the new Ohio State coach oversaw a renaissance in his second season at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. And that storyline will be amplified as the Buckeyes face a postseason ban this fall.

But, Meyer emphatically said Thursday, "What about this year?"

With three of his top seniors in tow, Meyer made that theme clear in his debut appearance at Big Ten media days.

"There's no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players," he said. "So no, there's no buffer year."

As the Buckeyes open preseason camp next week, Meyer believes a program coming off its first losing season since 1988 is in a "very positive" place.

Meyer concedes the absence of a bowl trip as a carrot is "uncomfortable," comparing the day in December he learned of the ban to getting "hit with a two-by-four." Although the tattoos-for-gear saga that led to the ousting of former coach Jim Tressel appears trivial in the wake of Big Ten rival Penn State's cover-up of child sex abuse, the sanctions remain very real for his seniors. Meyer said he feels for them, especially those he brought to Chicago: defensive end John Simon, fullback Zach Boren and linebacker Etienne Sabino.

"You see Zach Boren, that kid deserves to play for a championship. He's earned that right," Meyer said. "John Simon is one of the hardest-working guys I've been around in 26 years, and same with Sabino."

Meyer and his players, however, bristle at the suggestion that 2012 is a lost season. After Ohio State lost its last four games and finished 6-7 last season, Simon said the seniors want to be remembered as the group that helped restore the program.

"We need that winning attitude back," said Simon, an All-Big Ten selection last season.

Meyer said, "I hear, 'What about next year?' No. No. No."

"Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for those guys?" he said. "Yeah, we can go win the Leaders Division. We can go win that thing."

That ultimately will be Ohio State's greatest motivation. If they cannot represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes can prove they belong there nonetheless. Meyer believes the pieces are there, including a versatile quarterback -- sophomore Braxton Miller -- who appears poised to progress in the spread-option offense and a veteran defense anchored by Simon and junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Though the Buckeyes face several questions on offense, they are ranked in virtually every national preseason poll.

Meyer acknowledged Thursday his disappointment in a series of off-the-field incidents this offseason, which included the suspension in June of left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, and tight end Jake Stoneburner. Meyer said he expects the two starters, who pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, to return to the team for the start of camp.

"The issues that happened this summer, I'm very disappointed," he said. "However, I think as I continue to grow with myself, I'm not going to worry about what I can't control. We're worried about tomorrow, not yesterday. Mistakes are made, you handle it and move on and go forward. Players need to follow the lead of the coach. ... I've been there. You get so angry and upset. God's greatest gift is free will. However, we move forward."

In a season where the team's foremost goals are off the table, Meyer's next step is developing specific incentives to keep his players focused -- a process he said he continues to research. One thing he knows: the Michigan game will be big. Bigger than usual.

"I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about that," Meyer said. "I've already heard it."

For now, though, the bowl ban remains a taboo subject. No need for Meyer to kill a good feeling.

"We started a leadership committee, and at the appropriate time I'm going to start having those conversations with them," Meyer said. "But right now, I just don't think that's appropriate. It's going too well. The offseason is going too well. The energy is too high."

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com, or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.



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