Urban Meyer went 12-0 in his first year at Ohio State. Now comes maybe even the harder part: Following that up with the burden of expectations.
Many are already projecting the 2013 Buckeyes as a top-5 team and a national title contender, not to mention the Big Ten favorite. Fans are hoping for another undefeated run. Meyer isn't running away from those things.
"People say, 'Would you rather be the underdog or the favorite?'" Meyer said Friday in a news conference. "We'd love to be the favorite all the time. That means we've got a good team. So, no, I don't mind it."
But the coach is also being realistic. He was at the BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame as a guest commentator and saw up close what it will take to win a national title. As for talking about getting there next season, Meyer said, "that's like saying we've got to go to the moon. We're nowhere near that conversation."
Meyer knows his second team in Columbus has much room to grow, starting on a defensive line where all four starters depart from the 2012 lineup. He's still looking for "drastic improvement" from the receivers and from his quarterbacks' throwing precision. Meyer said he planned to meet with the team Friday afternoon, and his mantra would be "truth." As in, he would be bluntly honest with the players on what they needed to work on.
"We were very strong in certain areas [in 2012] and some of them were phenomenal," he said. "But quite a few were below average. So if it's strong, enhance it, and if it's weak, fix it."
The challenge for the Buckeyes is to make those gains without the benefit of the 15 extra bowl practices in December. Meyer and his coaches can't do much with the players on the field until spring practice begins. The players have to take more of a responsibility to work on their own.
"If we want to be a very functional football team, there has to be some self-leadership among the groups," Meyer said. "Because it's on the players; the coaches can't force them to do it."
Some other notes from Meyer's media session:
Four Ohio State assistants at least had discussions about other jobs this spring, but everyone on the staff stayed. Meyer said he hopes his assistants will get opportunities to move on, but always asks his coaches for two-year commitments.
Could Ohio State compete with Alabama? Meyer reiterated his declaration from the season-ending win against Michigan when he said the Buckeyes were a very good team who could play with anybody in the country. But then he added, "to say we can roll in there and beat a team like that, first I'll say I don't want to speculate. And then I'm going to give you an honest answer: Right now, I think we have too many holes to fill."
Asked about the apparent talent disparity between the Southeast and the Midwest, Meyer had this to say: "In the Southeast, the quantity is far greater than the quantity of the upper-level Midwestern schools. ... It's up to the Big Ten to change that. The only way to do it is to go out and recruit and get some more depth."
Speaking of recruiting, Meyer said there's a huge difference in that area this year as opposed to last year after he took the job in November. Back then, he said, he was just handed lists of the top 20 players at each position, and he would call them to make a sales pitch. Now, he says, "We've been here, we've been in the schools and we know what we're getting."
Meyer called the loss of several great senior leaders off last season's team, most notably John Simon, "a huge void." He said offensive tackle Jack Mewhort could take the role of Simon as the team's heart and soul. Other potential leaders he mentioned include running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and linebacker Ryan Shazier.