State Of Program At Stake For Players

The Ohio State football program is banned from playing in the postseason this season, which has many wonder what the team has to play for this season. Under the direction of Urban Meyer, Ohio State must be successful this year to keep the winning tradition of the program alive. The players have taken that personally.

Ohio State will play in multiple games this season that will have a vast impact on who eventually wins the Big Ten. Regardless of how the Buckeyes fare in those games – many of which will be nationally televised because of immense public interest – they will not be in a position to play for the championship.

That's the harsh reality Ohio State must live with as it continues to endure the rigors of fall camp. On the surface, the bowl ban puts Ohio State in the same position it was a year ago – a national college football power in a wounded state.

Delve a tad deeper and you'll find an incredibly different Ohio State than last year's version. This program, now under the guidance of first-year head coach Urban Meyer, doesn't seem to mind that it won't play in the postseason.

What Ohio State is playing for could be bigger than a bowl game. The fight, at least from the player's perspective, is to not let the program succumb to the issues it has faced off the field in the form of losses.

It's too easy for programs – once prestigious – to become irrelevant over time.

"I honestly didn't think about us not being able to play in a bowl game once until (the media) brought it up," senior fullback Zach Boren said. "We're playing for Ohio State and to get this program back to its winning ways again. That's enough for me."

The team that finished 6-7 a year ago was wounded. That Ohio State team had players moving in and out of the lineup on what seemed to be weekly basis, was losing games consistently and still the emphasis of an ongoing NCAA investigation.

When Ohio State received news that it was banned from the postseason this season – which Meyer described as the equivalent of being hit by a 2x4 – it was unquestionably bad news for the program. However, it served as the end to uncertainty with the NCAA that lasted longer than those affiliated with the program would have liked it to.

There's no bowl game hanging in the balance for Ohio State this year. Winning football, though, is still achievable.

"Our goal is to go 12-0 – let the world know who the Buckeyes are this year," running back Carlos Hyde said. "Even though we can't go to a bowl game, we still have to get out there and play. We're going to go out there and play and have a chip on our shoulders."

Ohio State's current position makes for quite the drastic change when compared to the situation it found itself in 12 months ago. No more uncertainty with the NCAA remains and lofty goals like the one Hyde illustrated have become normal again.

Now under the direction of Meyer, Ohio State is one of the more intriguing teams in the Big Ten, at least from a national perspective. No longer viewed as a program struggling to remain elite, the Buckeyes are one of the programs expected to take on the task of leading the Big Ten back to prominence.

"This is still Ohio State," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "We always have a target on our back and this year is no different. We want to go out and win every game we can to show that there's still a reason that target is there."

While the players seem fine with what's at stake this season, Meyer hasn't taken too kindly to not being able to play for a championship. An ultimate competitor in every since of the word, Meyer is hurt to know that his team cannot be named champions regardless of what is accomplished on the field.

"It's uncomfortable," Meyer said of the bowl ban. "I see Zach Boren walk across a hallway. That kid deserves to play for a championship. He's earned that right. John Simon is one of the hardest working guys I've ever been around in 26 years and same as Sabino. I always go right to the players."

Meyer will survive the bowl ban even if his seniors don't. His chief goal, of course, is to get Ohio State back to winning on the national level and he'll turn to those guys – who cannot be named champions this year – to set the program back up as one of the best in the country.

"Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for those guys? We can go win the Leaders Division," Meyer said. "Let me make this clear: they're playing for something. I hear this, ‘What about next year?' No, we're about this year. Just look at those (senior leaders). We're giving it everything we can for that group."

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