COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State lasers have been running constantly for a few weeks, and now it’s time to find out exactly how much battery power is left in them.
How many distractions can they cut through at once? If ever there was a week where Urban Meyer was going to find out if there was such a thing as too many for the Buckeyes, this is it.
“The term around here is laser focus,” Meyer said. “They’ve been good, and I put a lot of reliance on my older guys, because they’ve earned that right.”
They’ll be tested all week in proving that faith is well placed, since it’s hard to even figure out which distraction may weigh heaviest on the Buckeyes as they lock into preparations for undefeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday.
But like most football conversations, it’s usually safest to start with the quarterback, so put that at the top of Meyer’s to-do list.
The rogue cameraman’s hit-and-run on J.T. Barrett in the Big House feels as if it happened weeks ago already, but in reality it’s just been two full days. The questions about the health of the most productive quarterback in conference history aren’t going away until kickoff, even with Barrett’s status upgraded to probable on Monday. On top of that, Meyer has handed off duties in the hunt for the mysterious Man in Gray, but Ohio State’s administration will be trying to get to the bottom of the issue, and the coach will be pressed for updates.
Up next: The bizarre saga that played out over the weekend with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. He is both a close friend of Meyer and a crucial component of his coaching staff, but what is the mindset for Schiano after landing a high-profile job at Tennessee only to see it fall apart because of vicious, unfair personal attacks from the Volunteers fan base?
Playing in and winning The Game takes a toll as well. Emotions run at all-time highs in a rivalry such as the one Ohio State has with Michigan, and the latest edition was also a hell of a physical battle. Rebounding both mentally and physically is another challenge to add to the pile.
And then the College Football Playoff rankings will be unveiled on Tuesday night, with the debates about how Ohio State stacks up against Alabama in the race for one of the final spots in the field reaching a fever pitch. Good luck ignoring all that noise.
“There will be zero amount of effort or energy towards that,” Meyer said. “I said I’d have a chat with our team because I know everybody is talking about [the playoff]. But that chat will be this: Don’t worry about it. Worry about the laser focus on your opponent.
“This is a very mature team, a team that understands when they are focused that they are very good. And when they’re not, like most teams in America, when you’re not focused, you don’t play very well.”
The Buckeyes shouldn’t even need that reminder by now, with the memory of the mystifying loss at Iowa still relatively fresh in their minds. Whether they were truly distracted, looking ahead to what appeared to be better opponents, spending too much time enjoying the remarkable comeback victory over Penn State or just all happened to have their worst performances at the same time, they know what can happen without a good week of preparation and proper motivation.
Meyer is on the short list of coaches in the country who are best equipped to get a team on the correct path when there are so many appealing detours begging to be used. But he will have his hands full this week — even before the Buckeyes take the field on Saturday night.
“Every team is different, so you can’t just say, ‘This is the way we’ve done it in the past,’” Meyer said. “Every team is different. This happens to be somewhat a mature team.
“But our guys are also energized. They’re ready to go for this one. … We’re energized because of where we’re at.”
The lasers are fully operational.
Now the test will be how much juice is left in them as the Buckeyes try to vaporize a pile of distractions on the way to a championship.
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