FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Ohio State arrived in the Sunshine State on Sunday under a thick cloud cover and without defensive star Noah Spence.
An omen? The Buckeyes insist it is not.
A team that weeks earlier had all its eggs in one bowl — the national championship game — is hardly treating Friday night’s Orange Bowl brush with Clemson as a consolation.
The Buckeyes (12-1) landed in Fort Lauderdale late Sunday morning, then bussed to nearby Nova Southeastern University for a practice that belied the calendar. The intensity and temperatures in the low 80s evoked more the first days of fall camp than the first day of on-site bowl preparations.
Never mind coach Urban Meyer's one-time concerns of a hangover from OSU's loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. Or of a post-Christmas malaise.
“I think the fact that we’re playing Clemson in a BCS bowl game wakes up everybody up real fast," said Meyer, who gave players a five-day holiday break. "You worry as a coach that you’re not in shape and fundamentally behind a little bit. [But] I’m going to run them pretty good and get Christmas out of them.”
The one down note for OSU was the one player who did not make the trip.
Meyer said Spence, who had a team-high eight sacks in 13 games this season, is "working on some personal issues at home." He left open the possibility the sophomore defensive end would join the team in time for the game but did not detail the issues. If Spence does not return, sophomore Jamal Marcus is expected to fill in.
Otherwise, the Buckeyes appeared in good spirits, with relatively tepid fan interest in the game not infiltrating the team. Players again expressed their desire for a redeeming final act, hopeful OSU’s first loss since 2011 does not give way to a losing streak.
"This is really big for us right now," said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, a Fort Lauderdale native. "We’re going to come in here and try to do what we can for the Big Ten and for Ohio State."
History will be on their side.
Meyer is 7-1 in bowl games — including Florida’s BCS title-clinching win over Oklahoma in 2008 at the Orange Bowl — while a championship-or-bust mentality is largely a myth. The last six teams that lost a shot at the national title with a defeat in their final regular-season or conference title contest are 5-1 in bowls.
Recall 2007, the Year of the Rebound. Then-No.2 Kansas lost to Missouri in its 2007 regular-season finale, then responded with a 24-21 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl; No.1 Mizzou fell to Oklahoma in the '07 Big 12 title game, then thumped Arkansas 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl; and West Virginia was stunned on its home field by four-touchdown underdog Pittsburgh, then rocked Oklahoma 48-28 in the Fiesta Bowl.
The parallel OSU will guard against is Alabama in 2008, when the Crimson Tide went 12-0 before losing to Florida in the SEC title game. They then mailed in the Sugar Bowl with a 31-17 loss to Utah. Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward blamed his team’s apathy.
"There's very little interest from our fans, our players or anybody else to play in the Sugar Bowl, which to me is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "I tried to tell everyone, 'You're only going to remember one thing about this game, and that's going to be the outcome of this game.' "
Will an engaged Buckeyes team show up Friday? Shazier is sure of it.
“We’re not thinking about what happened in the past," he said. "We’re just focusing on Clemson right now and trying to get this win. ... I feel like we’ll be up for the challenge."