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Buckeyes May Be a Year Early, but That's How They Like It
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — The phrase "better late than never" doesn't always exist in sports, as sometimes things are too far gone for any late actions to even make a difference. For that reason alone, you would think "better early than never" would eventually find its place in the tattered pages of the encyclopedia of sports cliches.

If the Buckeyes have their say, that very phrase will soon exist in the college football lexicon, as Ohio State is once again in the College Football Playoff while being touted as being "a year away."

Replacing as many departed starters as this team had to do was enough reason for some to discount their potential, even while they were a preseason top five or six team according to the voters. Despite those expectations, most believed that the collective inexperience would eventually catch up with the Buckeyes.

Three months later and those people are still waiting.

"Yeah, I think it was a year early," head coach Urban Meyer said recently. "I think as we went through two-a-days, I knew we had to stay healthy. We're fortunate we stayed fairly healthy. We had to develop and we did. Whoever thought Malik Hooker and those guys would develop, Marshon (Lattimore) would stay healthy. He's never been healthy for a season.

"You develop Chris Worley and a guy named Jerome Baker, and the D-line would end up being a strength. Mike Weber, a thousand-yard rusher as a freshman. I could go on and on. You don't really think that far ahead because you don't really have time, but now I could reflect upon the season. Very proud of their progress. That game in Norman, Oklahoma, turned out to be kind of the difference in this whole situation."

Ohio State has to deal with expectations every year, and this year is no different. The weight of those expectations, however, can vary. A year ago the Buckeyes began the season as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and a roster that would eventually make NFL owners a little lighter in their respective pockets.

Those expectations have undone plenty of teams over the years, and it can be argued that they took their toll on the Buckeyes a year ago as well. That's where the idea of being a year early might be a good thing. Any time you can get to the finish line before your expectations, you've run a pretty good race.

For Ohio State, they're looking to exceed their expectations for the second time in three years, and according to Sam Hubbard, the Buckeyes also have another thing going in their favor.

"I think expectations do weigh on you, and there is that hunger factor," he said. "Guys want to prove themselves. It’s not that we play harder, it’s just they play with a chip on their shoulder, myself included. I wanted to prove some stuff because everyone was doubting us. Last year, they were more expecting things out of us. It’s a different mindset.

"I do believe last year we should have played for a national championship, but that’s not the way things worked out. But this year we’re obviously getting a chance and it is earlier than expected, but not earlier than we expected. It’s kind of like Coach Fickell in ’06. They lost just as many guys in the draft, and they went to the national championship the year after they lost all of those guys. This is kind of the same situation."

Player profiles relevant to story:
6 - Hubbard, Sam | Coach - Meyer, Urban
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