COLUMBUS — Scandal and controversy struck Ohio State’s football program to the core in 2011.
Jim Tressel was fired, quarterback Terrelle Pryor bolted for the NFL, and the Buckeyes were left in a vulnerable state. A team that would have been a national title contender slipped to 6-7, tying the most losses in school history.
The comparisons between that year and 2018 end with discussions of outside distractions. Urban Meyer returns to practice next week and OSU’s roster is fully stocked with talent. The coaching staff Meyer has assembled in Columbus, perhaps the best in all of college football, is poised to keep Ohio State as a top-five team.
The Meyer system remains in place, with coaches Mickey Marotti, Ryan Day, Greg Schiano, Kevin Wilson, and Larry Johnson doing the heavy lifting.
“In our conversations, what we have talked about is how adversity can reveal character,” said Day, who is OSU’s acting head coach during Meyer’s three-game suspension. “If we are an average team, the adversity will crush us. If we’re a good team, then we can survive it. But if we’re a great team, then we can actually get better from it. And I can sit here and tell you over the past few weeks, the team, the players, and the coaches have gotten stronger.
“We were down a man. The first team meeting, we talked about how everybody in the room has to step their game up, and they have, the leaders and the coaches.”
The 2018 season kicks off at noon Saturday against Oregon State in Ohio Stadium. The setting and the opponent provides No. 3 Ohio State with an opportunity to go headstrong into the year and put any lingering noise in the background.
After what felt like a lifetime term as OSU’s quarterback, the record-setting J.T. Barrett era officially is done. Up now is Dwayne Haskins, who’s in the mold of Cardale Jones, a brawny big-armed quarterback who could push the offense to another level. In his only extended playing time, all Haskins did was lead a second-half comeback at Michigan.
A new group of leaders is surfacing after Barrett held the title for four consecutive seasons.
“I’m not going to take any credit away from J.T. — he was a great leader, a great person, the face of the program for a while,” senior left tackle Isaiah Prince said. “But even with that said, I feel like there’s great leaders on this team, like me, Parris Campbell, Dre'Mont Jones, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, that are all capable of making up for J.T.’s absence.”
The arrival of Alex Grinch as co-defensive coordinator is as enticing. The suburban Columbus native did wonders at Washington State, where having a good defense is akin to being on a diet and going to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse.
Grinch, who also is the safeties coach, went from relative unknown to rising star in three years. Washington State ranked 97th nationally in total defense the year before Grinch arrived. The Cougars were 16th in 2017.
“We’re really blessed to have him here,” Schiano said. “He’s a tremendous coach. He’s a guy that brings great energy to our staff, and he’s a man that’s led a defense, a very successful defense. So he’s a great addition. He has certainly brought some fine ideas.
“When you put a defensive package together, there’s a couple things you have to take into account. You have your philosophy as a program, so it has to fit into the philosophy of the program. Then you have to look at your personnel and say, well, how can we, with the personnel we have, carry out the vision of the head football coach? And as one side of the ball, that’s our job. Alex has been a huge part.”
Ultimately, Ohio State’s season will be a collective effort by the players and coaches to work through the first three weeks, then rally around Meyer for the season’s biggest games.
It’s hard to say OSU’s been through adversity. Sure, the headlines and distractions are real. But practices have continued, there’s continuity inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and someone in a white Ohio State windbreaker is coming back soon.
“Our culture is strong,” Day said. “The culture leads at Ohio State. And the culture that the leaders here — not only coaches but the leaders of the program — especially our captains, have set the example for is what’s driven this thing for the past few weeks.”
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