"Last year was The Chase. This year is The Grind. And not surprisingly, The Grind is nowhere near as fun as The Chase."
- Jon Solomon, CBSSports.com
How does a coach handle the pressures that come with being the defending national champions in a college football landscape where nothing ever goes according to plan? How does that same coach stay sane and healthy knowing that the last time he was in a position with this much pressure, he suffered a heart episode and briefly retired from the game? For Urban Meyer, the answer appears to be a simple one: don't let the fun disappear.
That's easier said than done, given that the Buckeyes are staring down a murderer's row of distractions and question marks, ranging from the ever-looming quarterback decision to the loss of Joey Bosa and three other players for the season opener against Virginia Tech. But Meyer, to his credit, seems to be handling it all with his usual grace. Ohio State players have thrown out first pitches, horsed around at water parks, and gone paintballing this summer, trying to balance the pressure of being champions with the need to be human.
The only danger, then, seems to be the possibility of getting too complacent, one which AD Gene Smith spoke to recently (per Solomon): "You worry about them getting overconfident with all the people telling them how great they are. You pause for a minute and say, 'OK, do they understand what's about to hit in Blacksburg?'" It's certainly a concern, but if there's any coach who has learned the value of balancing the hard grind of a championship season with the importance of enjoying the trip, it's Urban Meyer.
"People are like, 'Oh, this team is going to repeat and is going to be a dynasty.' We haven't started the season yet. Guys can read into that and get complacent, and forget what got us there in the first place."
- Ohio State OL Taylor Decker, via Steve Politi, NJ.com
One player who hasn't lost sight of the importance of The Grind is stalwart offensive lineman Taylor Decker. The road ahead to defend the title will be a long one, and history doesn't favor the Buckeyes: of the last eight champions to be named preseason No. 1's, as Ohio State was, not a single one found themselves the last team standing at season's end.
But the meteoric rise of the Buckeyes, one which came (by most accounts) a year ahead of schedule, was equally unprecedented. As is the quarterback situation now facing Urban Meyer and the team. As is the position change of a guy who could have become a part of Heisman Trophy conversations had he won the starting signal-caller spot. There's not much frame of reference for comparing what Ohio State did last year to anything, and so perhaps their attempt at a title defense -- with Miller now at H-back, with suspensions coming down, with the potential for a three-headed QB monster on the field for a play or two each game -- will be equally anti-historical.
"Saturday simply would have allowed the offers to start. It would not have been a requirement to do so or a guarantee that anyone immediately will make offers...it would have signaled the first real chance for players' commercial value to be...tested on the market."
- Jon Solomon, CBSSports.com
For the time being, the NCAA has gotten its way with regard to the Ed O'Bannon proceedings concerning offering football and basketball players licensing payments for use of their name or likeness. Today, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the NCAA a stay on the O'Bannon injunction, meaning that schools don't yet need to begin offering deferred money to players. Schools wouldn't be required to offer money anyway, but would almost certainly have their hand forced by the free market -- if school A is willing to grant a player the minimum $5,000 for their likeness, and school B is not, that may make a college recruit's decision an awful lot easier.
Judge Claudia Wilken passed down a decision in August of 2014 that ruled the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by only offering players tuition, room and board, and textbooks/other fees. Again, no school would be required to offer the deferred payments (which wouldn't take effect until 2016-2017, anyway), but if one power program does, you can bet the others will find themselves needing to make a competitive arrangement.
Ohio State and Michigan's athletic directors have made their voices heard on the matter, as has Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. OSU's Gene Smith is in no hurry to get the stay over with, saying, "None of us support [the decision to pay players], so we're not rushing...unlike cost of attendance, when we're all like, hurry up." Michigan's interim AD, Jim Hackett, was a little less firm on his feelings towards the ruling, saying "Free markets have a way of moving decisions this way...I just walked into this so I'm now thinking about it, and doing is the next step." (WELP.) Delany, for his part, has advocated for a "wait and see" approach, not wanting the Big Ten to lead the charge on either side of the fence.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- Much like Ohio State's offense, a turkey is now terrorizing Michigan's students and campus.
- Ohio police are cracking down on distracted driving, racking up 999 citations last week alone.
- An excellent Grantland piece on the legacy of David Foster Wallace.
- It won't last, IMO: Michigan bride and Ohio State groom post photo shoot online.
- Wheeler Dog Park is reopening, praise the lord.