The 2014 Ohio State football team was young and unproven, but after an early-season loss to Virginia Tech at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes ran the table, blew out Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game and ended the year with back-to-back wins over Alabama and Oregon on the way to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.
And as the Buckeyes prepare for the start of the 2016 season with today’s game against the Bowling Green State Falcons in Columbus after losing 14 players to the NFL, they are reminded of the feeling within the locker room in 2014.
“Very similar, and I'm real excited about them,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said earlier this week. “I'm trying to hold down the excitement because I really am.
“I can't wait to watch them to play. I made a comment, a young team that's not very talented is -- but this is a talented team and good guys. This has been a good camp, good people to work with.”
It is not just a feeling that Meyer has either, as the players know there are questions surrounding the team after heavy departures to the NFL.
“I see a lot of similarities between us this year and the 2014 team," junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. "Coming in, everybody’s trying to compete for a spot. Even if you are a starter, there are young guys right behind you who are driven as well. That makes everybody work a little bit harder and that spreads throughout the whole team.”
McMillan is the Buckeye’s only returning starting linebacker and one of three key defenders, along with lineman Sam Hubbard and cornerback Gareon Conley, who will anchor Ohio State’s defense this season.
And according McMillan, the main mission for the Buckeyes’ defense is to force as many turnovers as they can after recovering nine fumbles, collecting 12 interceptions and returning four of those miscues for touchdowns.
“Turnovers come from how you practice and how you prepare during the week and finding opportunities on the field and taking advantage of those opportunities,” McMillan said. “It’s not about what play you call or what coverage you call. It’s about guys being where they’re supposed to be and taking advantage of opportunities when they come.”
Although many in the media have chosen Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State to be the class of the Big 10 Conference this season, senior offensive lineman Pat Elflein, an Ohio State captain this year, knows that putting on a Buckeyes jersey comes with lofty internal expectations, something he aims to uphold during his final season in Columbus.
“There’s always a standard at Ohio State to be the best,” Elflein said. “We know what our fans and what Buckeye Nation expect is to compete for championships. So that standard is still the same. I know the outside perspective is that we’re young and inexperienced and I think there’s a chip on our shoulder because of that.
“The culture that’s been established here the last few years since Coach Meyer got here really boosts our confidence. I think it’s similar to 2014; that year was a product of the culture of this program, from the offseason to how we trained and how we practiced, so I think we’ll have a similar approach this year.”