Ohio State football: Urban Meyer focused on present; players talk titles

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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CHICAGO — Coach Urban Meyer isn’t interested in talking much about Ohio State being the Big Ten favorite and a candidate for the first four-team College Football Playoff, but Michael Bennett said he and his teammates are comfortable being included in that conversation.

“That’s why we came to Ohio State; we wanted to be contending for a national championship every year,” the senior defensive tackle said during the Big Ten football kickoff yesterday. “There’s no reason to play for Ohio State if you don’t want to be part of a big-time program. I think we are comfortable with it, we relish it, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

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>> Seriously? You're following all those Twitter accounts but not @buckeyextra? Go ahead and move to Michigan while you're at it.

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Despite regional and national publications and media sites that have tabbed Ohio State the conference favorite, Meyer said such a thought is far from his mind. It’s understandable, considering the Buckeyes are replacing four starters on the offensive line and overhauling a defense that was thrown at like a carnival dunk tank last season.

“We’ve had zero conversation about tomorrow, or November,” Meyer said. “We’re just trying to get to training camp healthy and in the right frame of mind, and then have the best training camp we’ve ever had.”

Preseason camp convenes on Sunday, with the first on-field action on Monday. That’s when preseason talk becomes moot. As far as the defense, which finished 110th nationally in passing yards allowed, Meyer said that “we’ve completely blown up and started from scratch in an area that we were not very strong in.”

Bennett thinks the Buckeyes coaches are going to like the demeanor of the players because most were part of the school-record 24-game winning streak that was stopped by Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game in December, followed by a loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

“I think we have an incredible amount of talent, and we have developed an incredible amount of maturity,” Bennett said. “I think with the maturity we have now and togetherness we have on our team, guys aren’t just going to start blaming other people.

“They’re going to be really just supportive, and when things go wrong, they’ll be ‘I’ve got your back, and I’ll pick up for you when you fall off.’ That’s the biggest thing that shows a championship-caliber team.”

To first get to the Big Ten championship game and then to the College Football Playoff, though, “There are a lot of things that have to go right,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “I think the new playoff system, it’s probably just as mentally tough as it is physically tough.

“It’s a long season — it’s almost like you’ve got to win a national championship (game) to get to (another) national championship (game). Those four teams in that playoff are all going to be top-caliber, really strong contenders.”

Continual improvement throughout the season and the maturation of inexperienced players will be vital to fill gaps as the wear and tear takes its toll. Heuerman, healed from foot surgery in the spring, thinks the Buckeyes have the ingredients.

“We’ve had a good summer, and we’ve got some really good young kids who are going to have to step up and play some football that haven’t played a whole lot in the past,” Heuerman said. “If we can get that done and get our O-line together, it’s going to be something special.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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