CHICAGO — Ohio State’s goals usually start and end with championships. From 2005 through 2010, the Buckeyes hoisted a Big Ten championship trophy at the end of a football season. Last year that trend ended in infamy.
Ohio State, the Big Ten’s gold standard of football excellence, was taken down by the NCAA. Players received tattoos and other improper benefits from Columbus-area businesses, resulting in Coach Jim Tressel’s resignation, the ouster of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a slug of player suspensions. The Buckeyes’ six-year reign ended unceremoniously with a 6-7 record.
Ohio State won’t compete a Big Ten championship this year, either. The NCAA slammed the Buckeyes with a one-year bowl ban, and the team cannot compete in the Big Ten championship game. In the storied annals of Ohio State football this will be a lost year. But to defensive end John Simon, it still matters.
“Our goal is definitely to win every game,” Simon said. “That’s the goal for any team in college football. You want to win every game possible. We’ve just got to make sure that we take it one week at a time. Every Saturday is an opportunity for us to go out and there and challenge ourselves.
“We’re just going out there and competing. Our goal is to win games. If that spoils someone’s season, then it does. We’re going to do whatever we can to win those games.”
Simon’s rhetoric is cliche-filled, but his intensity has no equal. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Simon is undersized, yet relentless. He outworked his opponents for 16 tackles for loss, including seven sacks, last season. He once was booted from practice because he dominated on nearly every single play. To that Simon replied, “I don’t know why they pulled me out. They just gave me a little break. I was working hard that day.”
But there’s no doubt Simon amplifies the tone set by new Coach Urban Meyer. After sitting out one season, Meyer has returned to coaching and commands immediate respect. At Florida, Meyer won two national titles — including one at the Buckeyes’ expense. Meyer is an offensive innovator and a hard-charger, just like his defensive end. But that doesn’t make a season without goals any easier for Meyer.
Meyer described the bowl ban as getting “hit with that two-by-four” and said he’s struggling to absorb that hit. But he has yet to discuss his thoughts on the bowl ban with the team.
“Right now I just don’t think that’s appropriate,” Meyer said. “That it’s going too well, the off-season is going too well, the energy is too high. That’s the first bridge to cross. The second one is the free agency (in recruiting), and the third one is the actual motivation of a team when there’s nothing at the so-called end of the season.”
The Buckeyes do have something substantial to play for at season’s end. Ohio State has met Michigan in the regular-season finale every year since 1943, and the Wolverines stopped the Buckeyes’ seven-year, series-record win streak last year. Beating Michigan is motivation enough for the Buckeyes, and the absence of a bowl game just intensifies its importance.
“I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about it,” Meyer said. “I’ve already heard it. And I haven’t made that decision on how we’re going to attack that game other than it’s the biggest game of the year, and we will get ready for it.”
“I don’t think you can put any more pressure,” Simon said. “That’s the biggest game in college football. So the pressure’s on every time you play that game. We look forward to the challenge this year.”
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES