Ohio State football will be under the national microscope the next few days as the ESPN cameras that were everywhere during the first few days of practice will present their finished product.
For the next three days at 5 p.m., “ESPN All-Access: Ohio State Training Days” will be seen on ESPNU. The Buckeyes will also be featured on “College Football Live” at 3:30 each day next week and be part of a one-hour special on ESPN next Wednesday night (Aug. 22) at 7 p.m.
What will viewers see? Well, let first-year OSU head coach Urban Meyer tell you in this promo video.
“I’ve got to coach a few of them, and I want an angry team,” Meyer told the squad in a meeting the day before the first fall practice in a soundbite captured by ESPN cameras. “I want a pissed off football team. I want a team that has a chip on their shoulders. Maybe something’s been taken from you. Are you a team that’s gonna go get it? You’re the Ohio State Buckeyes. You have an angry football team. You have an angry staff.”
In Meyer’s mind, there are plenty of reasons for Ohio State to be angry. There’s the 6-7 campaign a year ago, the worst since 1988 – if you want the last squad to finish under .500 – or 1897, if you want to count total losses.
On top of that, there’s the obvious – a postseason ban that will prevent the Buckeyes from either attending a bowl game or competing for a Big Ten championship.
Meyer has spoken a few times about how difficult that will be for a variety of reasons, from the fact that the season will simply end suddenly in November without bowl practice to the fact that his staff will be in the uncomfortable (and unenviable) position of trying to direct a team that can’t play for a championship during college football’s stretch run.
In other words, it’s clear the bowl ban – one he likened to being hit across the chest with a 2-by-4 when he found out – has gotten under his skin. His hope is that the same thing happens with his players.
“Just having a chip on our shoulder,” safety Christian Bryant said. “Coach Meyer talks about that all the time. You’ve got to play with a chip on your shoulder. You have to be angry, in a comfortable way though. You can’t just go out there out of control angry. You have to have it built up and then just stay together as a team.”
It’s clear that Meyer doesn’t mean “angry team” as one that goes out with an intent to injure or cross any lines. He just wants one that will go out and play with an attitude that it wants to regain what it views as its rightful respect.
“I saw a quote somewhere where the last time Ohio State lost seven games was in the 1800s,” Meyer said at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in late July. “I actually heard players say that. I’m hoping it’s a very angry team. It’s a coach’s dream to coach an angry group of guys that are on a mission. The complacent, entitled group? That’s a nightmare. But an angry football team? I’m hoping these three guys here have a little chip on their shoulder.”
But will that strategy work? Will it distract the team or sap it of energy, or will it focus the squad on what needs to be done?
Meyer has one example of it coming to fruition, and it is one Ohio State fans will know well. The former Florida coach said his 2006 Gator team fit the bill, as it went from a group that hadn’t won 10 games in any player’s career to a national championship squad thanks to a 41-14 demolition of Ohio State in the title game.
Not only did Florida have to put up with the slings and arrows of a string of mediocre seasons before 2006, the Gators spent the entire campaign off the national radar thanks to a midseason loss to Auburn. The one-loss Gators rallied but only made the title game by the slimmest of margins in the BCS, which came extremely close to rematching Ohio State and Michigan in the final.
“It was a group of kids that really struggled for two years,” Meyer said. “It was a very angry team. Every coach’s dream is to coach an angry team. Brandon Siler was one of my guys, my leaders. He came to Florida and they lost three bowl games, just never had a good year. You come to Florida and places like Ohio State to go get a ring. They had never had one. They were very (motivated) and you could stoke that fire real easily.”
On the other hand, a few college football analysts cautioned that strategy isn’t a surefire winner for a variety of reasons. The Buckeyes spoke of a preseason chip on their shoulders a season ago, but the reality of the toughness of a 12-game schedule ended up derailing that train of thought.
“I think that’s Urban doing a wonderful job of managing a ‘dead year,’ so to speak,” ABC commentator Ed Cunningham told BuckeyeSports.com in reference to the postseason ban.
“If the players don’t buy into that – and I think they will, by the way, but Urban is a great motivator. I think he had to find a way to make sure that come October and November when it’s cold and football is not as much fun as it is in September, you have to find a way to keep those guys focused. But you don’t know until those games.”
In addition, each player is motivated by his own buttons, and anger might not necessarily be the way to go for all.
“I think it depends on the individual player,” OSU legend Chris Spielman, another television commentator with the ESPN family of networks, told BSB. “For me, every game was a Super Bowl game. Every game was the biggest game. Every game I played angry, but it depends on the individual.”
It’s a strategy Meyer has chosen to ride with, though, and the head coach has said he’s seen signs that it can work for the Buckeyes. Time will tell to what extent, but if a recent quote from Bryant is to be believed, the motivation is already there in spades.
“We want to go out every game, compete, win every single game and try to crush other teams’ dreams,” Bryant said. “Really, that’s all we can do this year.”