Last call for Ohio State's seniors
NOV 21, 2013 3:10p ET
Of all the ways to go out, the 18 Ohio State players being honored in Senior Day ceremonies this weekend have a real shot to go out undefeated over their final two seasons.
Which is pretty good -- and pretty rare. At 22 games right now, Ohio State has the longest win streak by a Big Ten team in 44 years. A win Saturday over Indiana clinches Ohio State's first appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, which means for the first time Ohio State would be playing the week after its Really Big Game with Michigan. If the wins keep coming, Ohio State will end up in Pasadena, either for the Rose Bowl or the BCS National Championship Game.
Since a 6-7 season of change ended with a loss in the Gator Bowl on the first day of 2012, these Ohio State seniors haven't lost.
What they've been through collectively has been well documented: A Sugar Bowl win to cap the 2010 season that officially doesn't exist due to the memorabilia scandal and the ensuing fallout that cost Jim Tressel his job. A lot of these seniors played in 2011 under Luke Fickell, and that season was a disaster for a few reasons, but specifically because it included Ohio State's only loss to Michigan since 2004.
"It's been one heck of a ride," center Corey Linsley said. "Just a lot of stuff thrown at us. For the guys who made it through and the guys who stuck it out, through everything, through the ups and downs, it's absolutely been worth it. Coming from that moment, it's just a whole other world away. There's a lot of things that went into that, there's a lot of reasons why we were 6-7, why we're undefeated now, but regardless, I think that we've done nothing but work hard and earn this spot.
"The worst part was probably losing to That Team Up North (in 2011) because after that game, everybody was just kind of like, 'We haven't lost to these guys in forever.' There were two classes that went through and never lost to them. After the Gator Bowl -- I don't think anybody really wanted to be at the Gator Bowl, obviously that wasn't our expectation for the season back in January of 2011. Regardless, that was definitely the darkest moment of that season."
The morning after that Gator Bowl, new coach Urban Meyer held his first team meeting.
Since then, Meyer has presided 22 times over what he calls "Victory Meal."
Just about everything's changed under Meyer, from the team's training regime and eating habits to the spread offense that's thriving with a straight-ahead run game keyed by Carlos Hyde, one of many seniors whose best performances have come over the last season and a half, and an offensive line with four senior starters.
Hyde and that group, Meyer said, "have been taking over games."
"I've seen guys change over the past few years and really become selfless people," left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "That's something I think is really special -- seeing guys transform from 'me' guys into 'team' guys. I think that's something that's happened around here, especially with guys in our class and taking ownership of the program.
"I think we did a lot of growing up as far as maturity goes. When Coach Meyer got here, we were realized we were the older guys now and we had to assume some responsibility and not just take a backseat and watch other guys do it. That's kind of what I mentioned before -- guys taking ownership, that was really cool to see. Coach Meyer put a lot of pressure on us to do that. We accepted that and that's when I started to see guys thrive. It's been a lot of fun and it's a great journey and I love this senior class."
Meyer called Mewhort "one of my all-time favorite players I've been around. He's playing at an extremely high level, but that's just part of it. His leadership -- he got hurt last week, so we had to take him out of the game and our offense just started spiraling. It's not just the fact he's a heck of a player, it's the leadership value he brings."
Kenny Guiton was a low-profile recruit, a distant third on the quarterback depth chart even as the offense sunk in 2011, and during Saturday's Senior Day ceremony he's likely to get the loudest ovation. Much of that stems from his first stint, rallying the Buckeyes to beat Purdue last season and stay unbeaten with help of a touchdown pass to fellow 2013 fifth-year player Chris Fields. Guiton officially became a super sub with his work earlier this season following Braxton Miller's injury, and he said this week that he hopes to be on Ohio State's coaching staff next season.
"It is a little crazy," Guiton said. "Just going out there with my family, it's going to be so special."
Contributions have come from all over. Fifth-year safety Corey Brown is getting his first chance to start now following an injury to captain Christian Bryant, who's remained around the team. Jordan Hall got hurt last year and got a medical redshirt, and he was very productive this season while Hyde served a suspension and then Hall ran into more injury issues. Marcus Hall has transformed his body and his work ethic to become a productive and important player on the line.
The list goes on. There are success stories all around, and they've come together to make it one really good one.
"It's not surprising because of how hard we've worked," Linsley said. "Things like the win streak and clinching the Leaders Division and all this, it's a lot of pressure on you, and to think about that stuff and concentrate on that stuff, it produces nothing but anxiety and stress. Week in and week out, I know it sounds cliche, but it's a one-game season every week for us. And we've done nothing but prepare like that all year. That's truly been a huge part of why we're undefeated at this point."
It's already a class that won't easily be forgotten, and it's four wins away from finishing its last two years without a loss.
Of all the ways to be remembered, it's tough to beat that one.