The sign above the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center reads "The Grind," as if Ohio State had a premonition of how the 2015 season would unfold. The Buckeyes are 4-0 and remain atop the rankings, but not much has come easily to them.
The sign above the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center reads "The Grind," as if Ohio State had a premonition of how the 2015 season would unfold.
The Buckeyes are 4-0 and remain atop the rankings, but not much has come easily to them.
As they get set to open Big Ten play Saturday at Indiana (4-0), the Buckeyes are doing their best to shrug off grumbling from those who expected them to pick up where they left off after that magical 2014 season.
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With so many players returning from the national championship team and after a dominating performance in the opener at Virginia Tech, many expected the Buckeyes to breeze by every week. But a listless offensive performance against Hawaii was followed by a close call against Northern Illinois.
A 38-12 victory Saturday over Western Michigan was enough for all but the toughest critics to step back from the ledge, though the Buckeyes resembled a juggernaut only in spurts.
That might not be such a bad thing. Teams don't want to peak in September. From coach Urban Meyer on down, the Buckeyes are trying to enjoy the ride and not just dwell on the destination.
Late in Meyer's tenure at Florida, wins had become so commonplace, so taken for granted, that he occasionally would skip traditional victory meals.
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"That's where I'm really trying not to let that happen, and a lot of it is on me," Meyer said. "I can't let it become that. I can tell you victory meals are great. We still want to continue having them. So I'm not going to let that (end), and that's my job. I'm watching it very closely."
The Buckeyes have resisted referring to themselves as defending national champions. The 2014 team was its own entity, they say. The 2015 team has nothing to defend.
"It's frustrating because everybody assumes that after seven months, you just pick up where you left off, and that isn't the case," offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said after Saturday's game. "There are new pieces on the coaching staff. There are new pieces on the offense.
"So things change and you're never the same and you have to earn your way and you have to develop a team. Every team and every season is different. Nothing we did last year is helping us win any games this year."
The championship does give the Buckeyes confidence that can only come from having climbed such heights. But they were able to fly under the radar to some degree a year ago after losing to Virginia Tech. Now, they couldn't have a bigger target on their backs.
"Last year, people weren't expecting us to do what we did," left tackle Taylor Decker said, "and now everybody has that level of expectation to where we should be untouchable, and they're going to hold us to those expectations.
"Whether that's fair or not is not for me to say, but those are the expectations people have, and if we don't perform to their expectations, they're going to criticize us."
Now the Buckeyes are off to play Indiana, a team that hasn't beaten them since 1988. The teams have played 87 times, but never before have they met with both having undefeated records this deep into a season.
Ohio State fans have traditionally taken over Memorial Stadium, but the Hoosiers' quick start - albeit against so-so competition - has given their fans reason for guarded optimism.
The Buckeyes will ignore that and just worry about that grind they are embracing.
It hasn't always been pretty so far, and Meyer acknowledged that he expected his team to be playing "a little better."
"But I hope no one here felt a sense of panic," he said. "It's normal growing pains for early in 2015."