Ohio State football: Players focus on present

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Forget about a national championship.

Forget about the possibility of a second straight undefeated season.

For Ohio State’s football players, all that matters is now, not January.

That was the message coming from the Buckeyes at their media day yesterday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Any talk about achieving the postseason glory denied them last year by NCAA sanctions was dismissed as dangerously premature and counterproductive.

Coach Urban Meyer talked about the necessity of managing distractions, calling it “the essence of this season.”

Last year’s senior leaders, who kept the Buckeyes on the straight and narrow even though the path ended in a dead end, are gone. Meyer has worked overtime to cultivate the next batch, holding leadership seminars to hasten the process. He is happy with the progress.

“I’m starting to feel it,” he said. “(But) I can talk about it all day. In November, we’re going to find out. If our leadership is good and we have no distractions, I think we’ll be all right. If we have distractions, we’ll have an average team.”

The next week, Meyer believes, will be pivotal for his team.

“The 2013 Buckeyes will be determined by this week coming up,” he said.

They will practice nine times in the next six days. It might be the toughest physical — and mental — test they’ll face all season.

“You’ve got to feel bad before you can feel good,” Meyer said.

The Buckeyes spent all of December and January feeling bad. They were the only undefeated team in college football last season, but they were ineligible for the Big Ten and national championship games.

Having served penance for transgressions they didn’t commit, the current Buckeyes will enter the season ranked No. 2 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll behind two-time defending champion Alabama.

But while their fans can dream of a Meyer-Nick Saban showdown in January, the Buckeyes say they are not looking beyond their Aug. 31 opener against Buffalo.

But press them a little bit, and they’ll acknowledge that last year’s sanctions have added a little zest to their pursuit this year. The banner in their practice facility reads, “THE CHASE … ” for a reason.

“I think it made everybody hungrier,” receiver Corey Brown said.

On paper, the Buckeyes have all the ingredients.

“I think it’s really exciting for everybody,” junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “Everyone can see what we can get to. ...

“But it’s exciting to know that football is not necessarily going to end in November if we continue to improve and do what we’re doing now.”

Senior hybrid back Jordan Hall was one player who mostly missed out on the fun last year because of injury. Now healthy, he’s eager to be a part of a team with such lofty expectations.

“We know that this year the target is going to be on our back,” Hall said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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