Urban Meyer broke his typical coaching formula with the Ohio State Buckeyes this year.
In previous stints, Meyer needed one season to rebuild and get things operating the way he wanted. It usually required quite an adjustment for players to learn Meyer’s playbook, let alone get in the kind of physical and mental shape the coach prefers.
Urban Meyer always hit a few bumps in the road that first year. Bowling Green dropped three games back in 2001, Utah lost twice in 2003 and Florida dropped three SEC games in 2005.
Those bumps in the road were never big enough to derail Ohio State in his first year with the team, though, as the Buckeyes put the finishing touches on a perfect 12-0 campaign last Saturday.
What was different about Ohio State compared to those other schools? How were the Buckeyes able to achieve perfection in Meyer’s first year with the team?
A favorable schedule certainly helped.
The Buckeyes typically play one titanic non-conference game a year, with Texas, USC and Miami as the most recent examples. Cal was supposed to be Ohio State's big non-conference opponent this year, but the Golden Bears have struggled mightily under the recently terminated Jeff Tedford.
The Big Ten is certainly working through a down year. Half of the teams in the conference finished the regular season with six losses or more, and only three teams (Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan) are currently ranked in the AP Top 25.
But it takes a lot more than an easy schedule to finish a season undefeated.
Meyer leaned on a phenomenal group of seniors throughout the year. It seemed like every time he spoke, Meyer praised guys like Etienne Sabino, John Simon and Zach Boren for their leadership. The fact that those guys stayed when they had the chance to leave the university without penalty when Ohio State received its bowl ban was a huge lift for the team.
It's hard to imagine the Buckeyes finishing the season undefeated without their seniors.
Would the Buckeyes have beaten Wisconsin without Simon's school-record four sacks two weeks ago? Without Zach Boren switching to linebacker midseason, would the Buckeyes have been able to make their stunning turnaround on defense?
A lot of the credit should go to the players. It would have been easy to approach this season differently considering the bowl ban, but the players found meaning in every game. Playing with that kind of intensity despite not having a bowl game at the end of the year as a reward is an incredible accomplishment.
Having Braxton Miller as the quarterback of your team probably helps a bit too.
What's scary to think about is the fact that 2012 was a rebuilding year for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. This team is only going to get better next year, setting up what should be a title run for Ohio State in 2013.
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