COLUMBUS: A new coach is relying a lot on team leaders to drive the ballyhooed "Urban Renewal" project at Ohio State.
Urban Meyer, hired last November to oversee a massive reconstruction of the Buckeyes' troubled program, revealed his two-deep roster on Wednesday but said if the squad's best and brightest don't take ownership then his reboot won't work.
"Talent will get you about seven or eight wins," said the former Florida, Utah and Bowling Green coach. "Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that's when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team."
Meyer said that if the Buckeyes' leaders don't make major strides between the end of spring practice and the start of fall workouts in August — when the players are for the most part on their own — then a good season is in jeopardy. He said he has been encouraged by some of the things he has seen, but still recognizes that there was a failure of leadership during last year's tumultuous 6-7 season filled with NCAA problems and suspensions.
It's this year's players who must guide the resurgence, Meyer said.
Using the top two quarterbacks as examples, he added, "So that means Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton have to get our passing game in order for August. And that's a tall task because it's not very good right now. And if they do that, and I understand they are doing it, we have a chance. If not — no chance."
In a far-ranging, 28-minute discussion with reporters, Meyer also addressed the debate over a potential NCAA Division I playoff to determine the national champion.
In short, Meyer is not a fan of most of the scenarios being floated.
"You play in one of the bowl games and then it's (teams seeded) 4 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 3 and then you go play the championship game," he said. "I can only imagine the workload that's going to be on that coaching staff and those players. I can't even fathom that you're trying to get ready for a national championship in two days — because that's what you've got because of travel."
Asked what he considered to be the best way to determine a national champion, Meyer said he'd stick with the status quo.
"I'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I think the ideal setup is what's happened the last decade of football," said Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida in that span. "I think we've had a true national champion. I was (coaching) a Utah team where I was hoping for a playoff at that point because that's the only access we could have. But I don't know. I can understand why it's happening. But I was not one of the screamers and yellers saying it was broken before."
He also said that he wasn't a fan of having the national semifinal games played at campus sites.
"I would rather have neutral sites. I'm not sure you can, on a crisp December day here in Columbus, have a Southern team come up to play. The Southern teams I coached (at Florida), I know it would be a problem," he said with a grin.
Meyer also addressed losing a verbal commitment recently after a convicted sex offender had interactions with players and recruits. Alex Anzalone, a top linebacker recruit out of Wyomissing, Pa., committed to Ohio State in April. But he has withdrawn his commitment after his picture was taken with Charles Eric Waugh, 31, of Ashland, Ky. In 2008, Waugh pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of underage sexual content. This year he contacted several Ohio State coaches, athletes and recruits, posing for photos with some of them.
Anzalone's father blamed Meyer and Ohio State at first, then later softened his criticism. His son was pictured with Waugh in a public place during an unofficial visit, when the coaching staff is not permitted to take an active role.
"I didn't know anything about it. So it's alarming," Meyer said. "The first thing you think about is safety of your players and the safety of the university. The good thing is Ohio State acted very quickly, I mean very quickly. Recruiting, you'll hear a million different stories. It's the stories that you have no control over that are the most bothersome. And that was obviously one we had no control over."
Ohio State alerted more than 1,000 athletes about Waugh as soon as it learned of his background.
Meyer took over an Ohio State football program which was hit with a serious "failure to monitor" charge by the NCAA in the wake of former coach Jim Tressel playing players throughout the 2010 season which he had reason to believe were ineligible for taking improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner.
Tressel was forced to resign last May 31 and was replaced by interim coach Luke Fickell. The players were suspended for the start of the 2011 season. But the NCAA still found that some players received envelopes filled with $200 cash at a charity event, and that several others were paid too much for their summer jobs by the same booster who was linked to the cash payments.
Ohio State was hit with NCAA probation, vacated a 12-1 mark during the 2010 season including a Sugar Bowl win and also was banned from a bowl game after the 2012 season.
Meyer said he was still researching how to broach the subject of having no possible reward at the end of the regular season.
He did say the wrong people were being punished.
"There's a lot of seniors in this class that had nothing to do with nothing other than to go to class, play really hard, get good grades and represent Ohio State the right way," he said. "That same group is not going to get to play in a bowl game. So that kind of rips your heart apart for those kids."