The 2008 Florida Gators and the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes both felt the confetti fall from the sky as Urban Meyer stood at the podium and held up their respective national championship trophies. Fans of both teams celebrated as their teams were the number one team in the country, even after they both suffered early season losses that most thought would knock them out of national championship contention. It was great to soak in their respective titles, but it was also easy to look ahead at the potential of going back-to-back in the following season.
The 2009 Florida Gators returned the entire two-deep on defense, along with Tim Tebow, a pair of electric tailbacks, one future NFL wideout in Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, and three offensive linemen, including the Pouncey twins. The offense lost the playmaking Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy at H-back and wide receiver, but they were replaced by the young, but highly touted Deonte Thompson and David Nelson. Everyone knew the defense would be dominant, with future NFLers Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham, Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Will Hill, Major Wright, among others. The only true question mark was that the coaching staff took a hit when offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Dan Mullen took the head coaching gig at Mississippi State after Sylvester Croom resigned. But with Tebow and a bevy of offensive weapons returning, along with Urban Meyer's offensive background and offensive line coach Steve Addazio being named the offensive coordinator, most thought the offense would not skip a beat.
The 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes returned eight of 11 on defense. However, the replacements were very strong and the group was projected to be one of the nation's best. On offense, they returned J.T. Barrett, a top-five Heisman finisher, Cardale Jones who led the team in their playoff run, the best three-down running back in the nation, four out of five offensive line starters, a future NFL wideout, a Swiss Army knife in Braxton Miller and a group of highly touted, albeit young, perimeter playmakers.
Like the Florida team, the only true question mark regarded the elevation of offensive line coach Ed Warinner to offensive coordinator and the newly hired Tim Beck, who would be replacing Tom Herman after he left for a head coaching job at Houston. But with two elite quarterbacks, coupled with an abundance of playmakers and a strong offensive line, most thought the offense would have replicated their dominance that they showed in the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff.
"The winning coach was explaining what went wrong and the losing coach was almost giddy.
The winning team was breathing a sigh of relief while the losing team felt the breath of new life.
One team is 3-0 and glum fans filed out of the stands when it was over. One team is 1-2 and its fans are fired up.
But that's what happens when you are expected to win by 30, have the potential to win by 50 and have it suggested to you that you win by 100.
This ... is Florida football 2009." - Pat Dooley of Gatorsports.com
The scene was Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville and the Florida Gators "squeaked" out a 23-13 victory against an average Tennessee Volunteer team. The defense, which they would have to lean on in 2009, had to make a play in a tight game in the fourth quarter to seal the game, in a game in which the fans expected a multi-touchdown victory.
"I would think in their locker room there was a little bit of frustration," said Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, "because there were so high expectations."
The fans and media had high expectations for the team and rightfully so. No one saw the positives that Meyer tried to spin and the fans especially, wanted to see the trick plays and the offensive domination that they became accustomed to in 2008, when they defeated their final 10 opponents, after the Ole Miss defeat, by an average of 35 points.
The 2009 team faced immense pressure. It was undefeated or bust for them. Their defense carried them but their offense had trouble on third down, the young but talented wide receiver replacements did not step-up, the once explosive offense was now vanilla and conservative, and they leaned on Tebow (24 carries vs Tennessee) in the running game too much. They did not test defenses deep and the play calling was predictable. "There were times when it looked like he was blind-calling our third downs," Tebow said.
The Gators won all their regular season games, but there was dissension throughout the season surrounding the team. The fans were not happy with their stagnant offense and neither were the players. New offensive coordinator Steve Addazio noted this when players complained about the offense not scoring enough after a 13-3 win at LSU.
"There was so much outside negativity that it wears everyone out," Addazio said of the 2009 season. "It was a grind."
Florida finished the season 12-0, but scored only 23 points against Tennessee, 13 vs. LSU, 23 versus Arkansas, 27 at home versus Vanderbilt and 24 against South Carolina. They won on the scoreboard, yet it was not good enough and it was not in the dominating fashion that everyone expected.
Perhaps the nail in the season's coffin came when defensive lineman and future first round pick Carlos Dunlap was arrested on suspicion of DUI prior to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, in which he would be suspended for. The team was a disaster and it showed, as their anemic, yet talented offense only scored 13 points against Nick Saban's defense, in a 32-13 loss.
After the undefeated dream was gone, the team surprisingly put on a good showing in the Sugar Bowl, defeating Cincinnati 51-24, but the team was not awarded Sugar Bowl rings, due to the staff declaring the season championship or bust.
Embrace The Grind— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) June 8, 2015
After "The Chase" in 2014 ended with a title, Meyer named the 2015 season, "The Grind." Maybe, Meyer learned from the 2009 season and turned Addazio's quote into the motto.
The Buckeyes had not seen a blemish since the 2014 Week 1 loss to Virginia Tech and as noted, they returned the key pieces and added talented depth onto the squad that defeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, 59-0, exercised their SEC demons by rushing for 281 yards on Nick Saban's defense in a 42-35 victory and then shut down the high octane Oregon offense in the national championship.
Week 1 on a Monday night with the nation's eyes solely on them, the defense knocked out Virginia Tech's starting quarterback with devastating hit after hit and the offense was rolling on all cylinders. Ezekiel Elliott shredded Bud Foster's defense, Braxton Miller put on a highlight performance and the passing game did not look like it missed a beat. Tom Herman looked like a minuscule loss and the offense would roll with the uber talent that they possessed, no matter who was under center.
But that lasted all of one game.
The offense turned vanilla and the offense failed to challenge any secondary deep. They lost Devin Smith, yet they still had a future NFL day one-two draft pick in Michael Thomas and an abundance of four and five-star perimeter playmakers. The quarterback situation, which many thought would be a plus, turned into a quarterback carousel that fell off the track. If one was not performing well, they would go to the other, and vice-versa.
The 2014 team outscored their last ten opponents by an average of over three scores, The 2015 team struggled mightily to put up points on the scoreboard against far inferior opponents. The offense put up 13 points at home against Northern Illinois, sleepwalked through the majority of the Hawaii and Indiana games and only put up 28 on both Minnesota and Illinois. Like the Florida team, their defense was dominant, yet they were forced to seal games in the fourth quarter against teams that the year prior blew out.
They were highly respected by the media and the playoff committee, staying in the number one spot in the polls and in the playoff, even though it was undeserving. The quotes coming out of Gainesville in 2009 could easily have held true for the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes.
One could argue that J.T. Barrett, the starting quarterback and team captain, getting arrested for suspicion of DUI was the final straw and culmination of a season that just was not meant to be. Like Dunlap, he was suspended for the following game. The Buckeyes put up 28 points against lowly Illinois in his absence, but he was scheduled to start the remainder of the season, which included the gauntlet of Michigan State, Michigan, the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff.
In his return, Barrett, who accounted for five touchdowns at East Lansing in 2014, led the offense to 14 points in a 17-14 loss to two back-up quarterbacks. Barrett was leaned on heavily in the run game, outcarrying Elliott, a Heisman contender 15 to 12.
The undefeated dream and barring something crazy, the back-to-back dream was over for the 2015 Buckeyes.
"I'm not going to let the expectations on the outside drain [us], because the expectations are higher within the facility. Enjoy the darn win, and we do. '09, we were — Florida had never been undefeated. I remember Tebow and I, Tebow was our quarterback obviously, all we would talk about is ‘we have to be undefeated. We have to be undefeated.' And we kind of drained the enjoyment out of it. I don't want to do that to these guys."- Urban Meyer on the Dan Patrick Show.
Coming into 2015, Meyer knew the expectations were similar to his 2009 Florida team; however, he attempted to be learn from his past mistakes and handle it differently .In this day of social media and scrutiny coming from all over the place, it is almost impossible to "ignore the noise."
The 2009 Florida Gators and the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes shared numerous similarities and expectations, yet they likely both will not accomplish their main goal: hoisting a trophy for the second time in as many seasons.