Youth presents a challenge for Ohio State, but Urban Meyer up for it

CHICAGO -- The roster has changed dramatically.

The expectations remain exactly the same.

Urban Meyer didn’t even bother waiting for a question about the huge amount of talent he has to replace or all the starting jobs left to be filled when Ohio State reports for training camp in August, wasting no time stepping to the podium on Tuesday at Big Ten media days and addressing the obvious right away.

In case there was any anticipation in the Hyatt Regency ballroom that Meyer might try to put a damper on some hype around a team that is still the preseason media pick to win the Big Ten, he brushed that aside as quickly as he did the concerns about the lack of experience Ohio State will have once practice opens.

“I've been answering a lot of questions about a young team,” Meyer said. “The issue would be if it was a non-talented young team -- and that's not the case at all.

“I would say going into this this is as talented a group top to bottom as we've had. Now how do we get them game-ready?”

That pressure is expected to fall on the coaching staff, which is perhaps another key difference for the Buckeyes heading into Meyer’s fifth season with the program.

A year ago, the battle for a team coming off a national title was against complacency for a group of seniors that will go down as one of the most decorated classes in college football history and a batch of draft-eligible prospects perhaps with an eye on the NFL draft. This season, the heat is on the coaches to develop all the highly-touted heirs to those superstars in the lineup, even though the high bar of success remains the same in both situations.

Nothing short of beating rival Michigan as it starts to emerge again as a viable threat in the league, competing for the Big Ten title and trying to return to the College Football Playoff is ever going to be good enough for Meyer and the juggernaut he’s been building since arriving at Ohio State. And there wasn’t even a second during his whirlwind media tour where he considered lowering that standard just because the Buckeyes only have six returning starters in the fold.

“This is probably the most critical coaching month that I've ever been through,” Meyer said. “We have to get these guys ready: 44 of our players, over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game. We have to get them ready, so our practices are going to be much different.

“It will be interesting. But I'm very excited to be around them, as all our coaches are this time of year. But this will be a new challenge for us and one that I can't wait to get our hands on when we report.”

Aside from the strong recruiting pipeline and a proven, championship-caliber coach, the task ahead of the Buckeyes is made somewhat less difficult thanks to the return of quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The veteran captain is as unrelenting as Meyer when it comes to the expectations for his team, which figures to have helped set a tone for the youngsters during grueling offseason workouts in preparation for August -- and an early test in Week 3 at Oklahoma. More than that, his track record as one of the most productive returning quarterbacks in the nation and the fact that he’s both finally physically healthy and no longer dealing with the mental strain that accompanied last year’s highly-scrutinized position battle.

“[Lowering goals] is not a real thing here,” Barrett said. “I don’t even see how we could do that. That would be regressing, and that’s not the culture we have in place. If you want to be a part of this program, this is the way it’s going to be and it’s not changing for you. We want to be the best, and this is the way we know how to do it.

“It wouldn’t be right to the fans or the tradition that came before us if we lightened up on expectations just because we lost a couple guys.”

The Buckeyes lost more than a couple, and they weren’t just average players, either.

But Meyer is back on the sideline and Barrett will be taking the snaps. That alone was enough to ensure that the Buckeyes left Big Ten media days with their swagger intact and aspirations still locked on a championship.