Buckeyes Making Most Of Unusual Season

Head coach Urban Meyer called his Ohio State football team a special group on Monday. The Buckeyes boast a perfect record through the first nine games of the season and have used a fighting mentality gained during the offseason to become a better team.

It would be safe to say Evan Spencer was not a happy camper during the Ohio State's football team's winter workouts. Under the tutelage of assistant athletic director for football sports performance Mickey Marotti and his strength and conditioning staff, the Buckeyes underwent a grueling offseason.

Those who went through it have called it difficult, but the sophomore wide receiver said he and his teammates now know it was worth it. Ohio State heads into Saturday's game against Illinois with nine wins in as many weeks. A perfect season remains a distinct possibility with three games to play.

"All of the stuff that we did in the offseason – as much as I can tell you I hated it during the offseason – it's really, really paid off for all of us," Spencer said. "It's brought us a lot closer, and it's really made us better people as a whole."

The battling and bonding during those workouts provided a fight or flight situation among Ohio State players.

"We had a choice: Get out or just keep going and keep fighting. … You're in or you're out, and if you're in you know the person next to you is also in," Spencer said.

Something special could be on the horizon on the banks of the Olentangy this November. The players can sense it, as can the coaches – including Meyer, who called the Buckeyes "a special team" during his weekly press luncheon on Monday.

In mid-May, Meyer discussed what makes a team special. He said talent is enough to earn seven or eight wins. Discipline gets a team to nine.

"Then when you get leadership, that's when magic starts happening," Meyer said. "It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team."

Ohio State is, of course, ineligible for the Big Ten championship, and a national championship seems unlikely. Only The Associated Press can declare the Buckeyes its champion, as OSU is not being ranked in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Even so, Meyer knows he has a motivated bunch.

"They're fighting for each other," Meyer said. "It's a refuse-to-lose type of atmosphere."

Meyer credited his team's discipline and leadership for its current success, which has Ohio State atop the Big Ten Leaders Division standings. The Buckeyes are eligible to win the division, but not play in the conference's title game in December.

There may be some who view Ohio State's 2012 season as much ado about nothing, but the play of the Buckeyes shows otherwise. OSU has rarely earned style points in its victories. Still, the Buckeyes have overcome injuries, deficits in games and earned road wins at two hostile environments at Michigan State and Penn State.

That's why senior fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren says the Buckeyes are a fighting team – a trait they gained when Marotti and his staff molded the team in the winter/spring months.

"We put in so much work during the offseason and became so close as a team," Boren said. "Coach Mick and the strength (coaches), they made things so hard and miserable at times that you just (had to come) together as a team."

Boasting the necessary chemistry to build a successful team, now Ohio State hopes to end its abbreviated season as division champions and hopefully with an unblemished record. The latter possibility has been a stated goal of many of the Buckeyes in meetings with the media before and during the season.

But with three games left, that goal is coming more into view. Sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith began to believe in October.

"After we beat Michigan State and Nebraska, I started telling myself, ‘Man, we really can go 12-0.' That dream is still alive and everyone on this team believes it," Smith said.

Smith added that it is frustrating not to be able to play more than the originally scheduled 12 games this season.

"We want more, just to show the world that we bounced back," he said.

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