Urban Meyer's perfect first season at Ohio State should worry rest of Big Ten
The Gatorade-style bath dumped on Urban Meyer Saturday at Ohio Stadium must have felt a lot colder than the ones he got when he aided the actual Gators. Not much else changed though since Meyer took his act from the Florida sun to the perfectly grey and frozen Midwestern November skies.
Ohio State has one of the best coaches in America, a result-oriented, game-changing talent who might be able to do for the Big Ten what confused expansion plans likely won't – return the league to national relevance.
The Buckeyes downed Michigan 26-21 Saturday, moving to 12-0 on the season and sending shivers down not just Meyer's spine but through rest of the conference. If this is what Meyer can do in one year with a 6-7 team, then what happens when he gets more time with quarterback Braxton Miller and surrounds him with all of his own recruits?
NCAA sanctions will keep Ohio State from postseason play this season, but the Buckeyes are coming strong now. Meyer is coaching and recruiting like a man possessed, even as he's vowed to no longer be a man possessed.
We've seen this act before, a blueprint he drew up as a young coach at Bowling Green and used to deliver a perfect season at Utah and two BCS titles at Florida. The only improbability here is that this unbeatable season came so fast.
"It's a great team," Meyer told ESPN after the victory. "We went 12-0. This is a great team. This will go down as one of the great teams in Ohio State history."
He knows that isn't truly the case. Perfect is perfect, so it's fine to hail these Buckeyes as great, and there is no question they'll go down in school lore. They deserve every last bit of praise. But all season Meyer has said they weren't great, and their play, even on Saturday, showed as much. A great team would've beaten mistake-prone Michigan by at least a couple of touchdowns.
It doesn't matter. If Meyer can walk into the league and roll it like he just did with a team that isn't "great," well, what's going to happen when he has one that is? (And even Wolverine fans will concede that Meyer will put some of them together.)
Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes have already proven to be a step ahead in the Big Ten. (AP)The guy just keeps churning and churning, only now many of the old challenges are gone. There is no in-state program that can battle him on the recruiting trail like Florida State and Miami did. There is no weekly grind of the SEC, no Les, Nick, Ol' Ball Coach, or so on and so on. Heck, Meyer doesn't even have to survive the league only to find the Seminoles waiting at the end.
This is all set up for Meyer. If the speculation and sources on Big Ten expansion are correct, Ohio State's future division will feature Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, Rutgers and a sanction-devastated Penn State program. That leaves Wisconsin as the only team with the capability to realistically challenge Meyer's Bucks.
Anyone want to bet he doesn't coach in four of the next five Big Ten title games? Or will it be five?
In short: This isn't his last unbeaten team. And with a playoff coming, Meyer might not even need to be perfect to get into the mix. For a league that hasn't been relevant in the BCS chase in half a decade, that's something to look toward.
Michigan is supposed to be Ohio State's big challenger in the future, and Brady Hoke has his own top recruits coming. That said, Saturday wasn't a good afternoon for Hoke. His team's play-calling and strategy was under an avalanche of second-guessing by U-of-M fans.
[Also: Dr. Saturday's bowl projections: How much more chaos is on the way?]
Optimism and momentum are so high in Columbus, fans even gave a rousing standing ovation Saturday to former coach Jim Tressel. That's the very man responsible for the NCAA sanctions that prohibit this team from playing for the Big Ten and, perhaps, the national title.
With a future this bright, it's not just the past that's forgiven, it's the present.
The Big Ten is fumbling around trying to gain the on-field power of the SEC. Its plan seems to be to capitalize on its cable television channel, buying up East Coast demographics and comforting itself for inevitable on-field, non-conference beat-downs by counting its money. When everyone else yells "scoreboard," Jim Delany appears comfortable shouting back, "bank."
Meyer, meanwhile, arrived from the SEC and didn't stop acting like the SEC. He recruited like it. He coached like it. He demanded like it. He focused like it. And he never thought about apologizing for it, no matter the sniping about gentlemen's agreements being broken.
There are no gentlemen agreements in the SEC. There are just gentlemen hoisting crystal footballs.
So forget battles over Brooklyn's basic cable pricing tiers, the future of the Big Ten was standing in the middle of Ohio Stadium Saturday, shaking off another icy bath, in colder air now but with a chill as rewarding as ever.
Everything was perfect. And yet, per Urban Meyer's plan, even better is coming.