COLUMBUS: Urban Meyer says one of the mantras for his second Ohio State team will be "truth."
He's certainly not sparing his Buckeyes his perception of it when it comes to whether they can compete with the likes of national champion Alabama next season.
"For me to say we have to get there next year, that's like me talking about we have to go fly to the moon," he said Friday. "We're nowhere near even having that conversation."
Despite a 12-0 record and a No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll after a bowl-less season, Meyer made it clear he does not believe his team is remotely close to even discussing competing with the nation's elite teams.
"Truth means exactly (that); you have a good season, and there's a lot of conversation about things that really shouldn't be discussed because it's not true," he said, referring to extremely early predictions that figure the Buckeyes to be among the top handful of teams in the nation in 2013. "For example, are you guys going to (contend for the national title) next year? No, probably not, unless we get a lot better — like, a lot better."
Meyer even detailed what makes teams like Alabama, Georgia, LSU and the rest of Southeastern Conference — where he coached for six years at Florida 2005-2010, winning two national titles — so much better than everyone else.
"The SEC, right now, the quantity (of great players) is far greater than the quantity at the upper-level Midwestern schools," Meyer said. "It's up to the Big Ten to change that. There's one way to do that: Go out and recruit and get some more depth. But to say that there's not quality football players in the Big Ten, that's not correct. The quantity is the biggest difference."
Even though he said he won't discuss with his players how they can compete with the Crimson Tide and others, that doesn't mean he isn't thinking about it — "24/7, every second of (my) life."
"We've got to go catch them," he said of Alabama, the national champs in three of the last four seasons. "Everybody's trying to catch the best. Some people are probably trying to catch us. There's nothing else I'd rather do than watch these other programs and kind of figure out how they're doing it, how do we get that or do that? How do we beat that?"
His first Ohio State team was a pleasant surprise. Led by sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and a group of game seniors who refused to settle for anything short of each player's best, the Buckeyes piled up wins even though many thought they might falter because of NCAA sanctions which deprived them of a bowl trip.
They eked out some close wins, won their Big Ten division and knocked off rival Michigan in the annual season-ending game.
Despite the disappointment of being shut out of the conference title game or playing in a major bowl due to NCAA violations committed under the tenure of the deposed Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes accomplished just about everything they possibly could last season.
No wonder Ohio State is honoring that squad. A team photo is in a prime spot at the end of the hall just outside the meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Each of the 2012 Buckeyes will receive rings commemorating their divisional title and only the sixth unbeaten and untied season in the program's 123 seasons. And another wall in the practice facility will honor what was a season of triumph after a year of sanctions, suspensions and innuendo that nearly tore the program apart.
"In my history with players, they like that. They like to come in (later in life) and bring their children, bring their families and then say, 'I was a part of that,'" Meyer said.
He said the past few weeks had been good ones. Ohio State received news that running back Jordan Hall would be granted a medical redshirt after missing most of the 2012 season with foot and knee injuries. Meyer has laid the groundwork for a bumper crop of top recruits heading into the Feb. 6 signing day, with several already enrolled in classes. His staff remains unchanged, despite several schools inquiring about hiring his assistants. He also made it clear he had not been offered any of the numerous NFL head-coaching jobs.
Meyer said he would challenge his returning players to make substantial improvement — particularly on the defensive line, at linebacker and wide receiver.
"The truth is we're very strong in certain areas, we've made great strides in certain areas," he said. "However, there were quite a few that were below average performances. So we've got to get those fixed. The saying is, 'If it's strong, enhance it and make it even stronger; if it's weak, fix it.' So that's where that truth comes back."