COLUMBUS, Ohio-The last time Ohio State players were on a football field together, they exited it with looks of sorrow on their faces and senses of disappointment eroding from their bodies. They had just lost in the Orange Bowl to Clemson.
The time before that it was a similar scene, only there were some tears shed and a couple players left the turf and headed to the locker room prior to the final seconds ticking off the clock. They had just lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game; it was their first defeat in nearly two years and their national title hopes had been dashed.
Today, for the first time since those contests, the Ohio State football team will take the field together. The spring football season officially begins at 4 p.m., when this edition of the Buckeyes will practice for the first time. Ohio State will practice 14 times prior to the LiFE Sports Spring Game, presented by Nationwide, on April 12 at Ohio Stadium.
Each season is a new beginning, but it isn't difficult to wonder about the current state of Urban Meyer's program. After winning 24 straight games and then losing their two biggest, how will the 2014 Buckeyes respond to the way the 2013 Buckeyes finished?
Or does that matter at all? Maybe this group has firmly put the past behind it, and nothing that happened a season ago will affect this team.
Based on what's happened so far in the Meyer Era, though, that won't be the case.
In Meyer's first season, Ohio State players often talked about sending the seniors off on the right foot after a losing campaign a season prior.
In Meyer's second season, Ohio State players routinely discussed the goal of winning the conference and making the national championship game. The team's motto was "The Chase," and banners and posters were put up in every corridor of the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility. The season prior, they had gone undefeated, but NCAA penalties prevented the 12-0 Buckeyes from playing in the postseason. They were chasing what they couldn't get to in 2012.
So it's not unreasonable to think that this season's team will try to use something that happened a season ago as a motivator.
Some of the core from the 2013 group remains. Braxton Miller is back, along with some of his key offensive weapons-Devin Smith, Jeff Heuerman, Dontre Wilson, Evan Spencer-and a big offensive tackle in Taylor Decker. On the other side of the ball, basically everyone from the team's best unit-the defensive line-is back. But there are big holes to fill in the back seven, left by Ryan Shazier and three starting defensive backs.
Meyer and his staff-which includes new defensive coaches Chris Ash and Larry Johnson Sr., who replaced Everett Withers and Mike Vrabel, respectively-brought in one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Many are expected to play right away.
"So just so everybody knows, there's no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process," Meyer said.
Considering what Ohio State brings back and what players were brought in, the Buckeyes will likely be a preseason top-10 team in the fall. CBS Sports has Ohio State ranked No. 6 in its ridiculously early poll. ESPN has Ohio State at No. 9 in its ranking.
So the expectations for this team will be similar. A Big Ten championship game should be reached, and possibly, an appearance in the first-ever College Football Playoff should be made.
But expectations are only sometimes-if not, rarely-met. That was certainly the case with last season's team, which started the season ranked No. 2 in most polls, and ended the year outside the top 10.
Ohio State won't be the clear-cut favorite this season, though, and maybe that will help. Michigan State will almost assuredly be picked to win the conference. That worked for the Buckeyes in 2012, when they were not ranked highly entering the season. That group finished the year ranked in the top three.
Spring ball isn't critical, but it is seriously important in a number of ways. Most notably, perhaps, is setting the tone for the season ahead.
And for this Ohio State team, based on how it finished its last season, that's important as ever.