The Buckeyes held their weekly press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, where head coach Urban Meyer, receiver coach Zach Smith, and defensive back/special teams coach Kerry Coombs spoke to the media about the team's schedule during the bye-week, as well as the upcoming battle for the "Illibuck" trophy with Illinois.
As the season winds down, Meyer said he believes that the Buckeyes deserve to be in the discussion for the national championship. As he has all season, Meyer said he'd rank the Buckeyes the second best team in the country, behind Alabama. Meyer noted, along with the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide, he'd have Florida State, Stanford, and Baylor in his top 5.
This past week, the Buckeyes received a mid-season signature from one of the top players in the 2014 class, Curtis Samuel. Samuel took advantage of a NCAA bylaw, where he was able to sign into a financial aid agreement, thus becoming the first player in Ohio State history to do so. Following in the footsteps of Samuel was Glenville's Marcelys Jones, who Meyer had the chance to see in person this past weekend.
While Meyer avoided talking about talking about the signees, due to the fact that the scholarship agreement is non-biding for the student, he did talk about the rule itself. Meyer called the signing "bizzare" and "out of left field", but did not want to speak anymore about the rule so that he was not misinterpreted or mistaken. While it seems that the rule ends the recruiting process for the pair, the bylaw only states that Ohio State has to honor the financial aid agreement between the two. This means that, even if either player in injured in their last few games as a high school player and can never play again, the university must still acknowledge their scholarship. The player can still attend another school, but the agreement is effectively protection for the individual.
A benefit for the school, however, is that Ohio State is no longer limited on in-person contact, visits, or phone calls with the players. Meyer did say that this side of the bylaw can be a "ridiculous benefit" for the program.
This week, the Buckeyes travel to Illinois to battle for the "Illibuck", the second oldest trophy in the Big Ten conference. The last time the Buckeyes played in Champaign, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller completed only one pass, a touchdown to tight end Jake Stoneburner, in the Buckeyes 17-7 win. Meyer lauded his quarterback for his improvement since then.
"You do what you have to do to win." - Urban Meyer
Meyer said he doesn't expect a letdown when the teams meet up, saying that his team is too invested in something bigger to overlook the Illini. In fact, Meyer said he has been getting updates about the probable conditions the Buckeyes will face on Saturday. According to his news source, game time temperature will be around 50 degrees in Champaign.
When asked if his team is better this year than they were during their undefeated season of a year ago, Meyer said that the team is more functional and more focused now. He did say that they were better, but quickly rescinded the statement out of respect to the 2012 seniors. Most notably, Meyer said that the team is better on offense and special teams, but also has had to find their way on defense. Meyer also stressed that there has been consistency on offense and special teams, with the same players getting reps every week.
During the bye-week, Meyer said he was able to sit back and watch some football, something he rarely does during the season. In fact, Meyer said that he was able to watch "as many games as he could get his hands on", including Oregon verses Stanford and Oklahoma at Baylor. Out of all the games he watched, Stanford's upset of Oregon was deservedly Meyer's favorite game of the weekend.
After a lighter week of practice, the Buckeyes returned to the practice field this morning with a renewed sense of focus. Meyer said the team practiced very well and that they expect to play very well this week, as is always the goal. Unfortunately, the team was without two linebackers for the morning practice. Curtis Grant has been dealing with an ankle sprain, while Josh Perry has a dislocated finger. While Perry had surgery to repair the damage, Meyer said he expects the pair to return to the field on Tuesday. With their injuries, Meyer took the time to point out that the group of linebackers are "not at Ohio State standards", but hopes they can finish out the year on a high note.
With the end of the year quickly approaching, Meyer said he doesn't feel any extra pressure to win with style points, but says the Buckeyes just needs to play great and win each game. Meyer said that he's not frustrated that the team is on the outside of the national championship race looking in, especially since he's been in this situation in the past. As head coach of Florida, his Gators were on the outside looking in until Ohio State beat Michigan in the last week of the season.
Lastly, after a week of speculation, Meyer confirmed that he spoke to Florida Atlantic athletic director Pat Chun about the Owls' vacant head coaching position. Despite the meeting, Meyer did not confirm Luke Fickell, or any other member of the staff, had their name brought up in the discussion.