When Ohio State opened the 2015 season against Virginia Tech, there was no crowd of gold-blazered bigwigs waiting to greet them at the airport. The October trip to Indiana was a brief one and didn’t include daily press conferences at podiums or open practices. There were no hospitals visited when the Buckeyes traveled to Rutgers, and late-season trips to Illinois and Michigan were presumably light on sightseeing.
As is the custom with bowl games, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his players will be dealing with all of those elements and then some as they attempt to finish the season strong against No. 8 Notre Dame. It’s a unique format that players only see once a season, and for teams near the top of the rankings it comes when the stakes are raised.
“When we’re playing in a regular away game, we leave the day before the game and we get in and then we get out,” Ohio State senior linebacker Joshua Perry said. “So for us, the big thing is just following the plan. Coach Meyer’s played in a lot of bowl games and a lot of big ones so his plan, obviously he’s had time to get it down and do it the right way and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Meyer hadn’t been on Arizona soil for more than 10 minutes when he used the opening statement of his arrival press conference to reflect on the battle between making sure his players get the most out of a unique experience while also making sure he gets the most out of them when the game arrives.
“We have the fine line of making sure our players get to enjoy it,” he said. “Some of these young men have never been out to this part of the country. We enjoy the people and the hospitality, but also we have a job to do against a very, very good football team.”
Perry played up the seriousness of the bowl game, especially against a team the caliber of Notre Dame, but he said that a week of players grinding themselves into misery would be counterproductive to the cause.
“Having fun is a big part of it,” he said. “You can’t go down there and just be tight the whole time because obviously you’ve wasted an opportunity in a new city to enjoy yourself but being uptight for that long is just not gonna be good. You’re gonna see a sluggish team that just looks dead.
“Again, though, there’s that balance you have to find. Guys can’t be out all night. We’re gonna have curfew and everything. Especially leading up to the game, guys know the closer it gets to game time the more serious you have to be.”
Junior safety Tyvis Powell took a slightly more militant stance, saying that trips to the bowling alley won’t be remembered fondly if the Buckeyes don’t leave the Valley of the Sun with a win against Notre Dame. He cited the Orange Bowl, a game that the Buckeyes dropped to Clemson to close the 2013 season, as a bitter memory.
“The only reason the bowl trip is fun is if you win the game,” he said. “If you go there and lose, it’s not fun at all. Nothing you did was fun. You look at it like this was a complete waste of time. So you have to go there to win the game.
“If you win the game, then you look back and say, ‘You know what, we went bowling, we went skating as a team. That was fun.’ When you lose the game, you’re so mad that you lost the game that you don’t think about nothing else. So it’s all about the game.”
The Buckeyes were at their best last year in winning the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and CFP National Championship in Dallas, and the upperclassmen have had some memorable destinations despite having to skip a bowl altogether in 2012.
“Last year, New Orleans was awesome,” junior right guard Pat Elflein said. “Going to Texas was pretty cool. New Orleans was fun, especially after that win. The Orange Bowl was awesome, too. We got to go down to South Beach and hang out there a little bit. We’ll see what Arizona has to offer us.”
If they maintain the balance, the Buckeyes believe they’ll leave with a win.