DISNEYLAND — With millions of dollars on the line, stars like Dwayne Haskins, Mike Weber and Dre’Mont Jones have each gone public with their intentions to suit up for Ohio State one last time, choosing to play in the Rose Bowl rather than starting NFL preparations early.
There are plenty of good reasons that players, more and more, are choosing to skip what have become essentially meaningless postseason bowl games. Though the trend may have started with former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, there’s been a decidedlyÂ different feel this December, especially after the program was snubbed for a College Football Playoff berth for the second straight season.
Urban Meyer, preparing to coach his final game for the Buckeyes, believes his players are focused and ready for the Rose Bowl, a game that still carries weight for them. He was concerned that his team may fall victim to some of the postseasonÂ complacency that strikes so many programs after failing to reach the College Football Playoff, but he’s been pleasantly surprised by his team’s response since winning the Big Ten Â championship.
One reason for that approach? The Rose Bowl itself.
“I was really worried about it,” Meyer said. “I remember one year at Florida we missed out on the championship and we went to the Sugar Bowl — and it was like, not good enough.
“I was really worried, but our players know all about the Rose Bowl and appreciate and respect the tradition of it. I am sure thatâ€™s why all those guys are playing.”
The allure of playing in this game is big. But for the guys on the field, knowing it’s going to be the final game for their coach plays a part in finishing this topsy-turvy season strong. In fact, according to three fifth-year seniors, there are a couple of important things at stake for the Buckeyes.
“I think thatâ€™s added something to it,” Ohio State captain Parris Campbell said. “But the biggest thing is that it is the brotherhood. Itâ€™s how close with are, combined with it being Coach Meyerâ€™s last game. The seniors we have, the fifth-year seniors –Â it’s our last game. Everyone is just really close. Itâ€™s for our teammates.”
Meyer obviously won’t say his stars are playing in the Rose Bowl because of a desire to send him out a winner in his last game, but it’s clearly playing a part. But it’s a big part of why the Buckeyes don’t have a handful of players opting out with NFL future and money on their minds.
“A big part is Coach Meyer, itâ€™s his last one — everyone wants to do what they can to make sure he goes out on top,” Dixon said. “I know if I was Dreâ€™montâ€™s position, itâ€™d be really hard to play. But him stepping up and playing is important. His stock is solidified, but heâ€™s doing it for his brothers and this team.”
There still may be a player or two that decides to skip the Rose Bowl. And if they do, that’s perfectly fine. But in a game that doesn’t matter, the fact that Jones, Weber and Haskins — who is likely to be the top quarterback picked in the NFL Draft when he announces he’ll be leaving school — have all stood up to say they’re going to play is significant. Maybe it’s Meyer, maybe it’s the Rose Bowl itself and maybe it’s the Brotherhood.
But whatever it is, its clear this gameÂ does matter to the Buckeyes.
“I watched old Ohio State teams in the Rose Bowl, I watched Reggie Bush in this game and heâ€™s one of my favorite players,” Terry McLaurin said. “Itâ€™s a tradition-rich game, and everyone is disappointed thereâ€™s no chance to win a national championship, but when you say you get to play in the Rose Bowl? Thatâ€™s the next best thing.
“After everything weâ€™ve gone through this season, to have a chance to win the Rose Bowl is pretty special. Iâ€™m just out here enjoying each and every day and hopefully, we end the game right: With a rose in my mouth.”
There’s only one place to do that. And Ohio State is there now.