Meyer Brings SEC Attitude to B1G Media Day
By Brandon Castel
CHICAGO — Just win, baby.
Photo by Dan Harker
That’s what Urban Meyer says will put the Big Ten back on even ground with the SEC for college football dominance.
If Meyer was still the head coach at Florida, there would probably be a lot of people annoyed by his reference to the SEC as the “kingpin” of college football.
Instead, Meyer is looking to translate what he did with the Gators into championships at Ohio State.
He might just transform the entire conference in the process.
While the Big Ten is not far removed from being the standard by which all of college football is judged, the days of Midwestern dominance are getting further and further away in the rearview mirror.
“I remember a time in 2006 when we were trying to get into the national championship game and there were two Big Ten teams ahead of us, so they were the No. 1 conference at the time,” Meyer said.
“I remember having to try to sell our team, so it’s all cyclical.”
Those two teams were Ohio State and Michigan—the two premier programs in the Big Ten for the last 50 years, or more. After the Buckeyes knocked off their archrivals, 42-39, in Columbus, there were many who wanted to see a rematch of “The Game” in the biggest game of them all.
Instead, Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes were matched up with Meyer’s 1-loss Gators—champions of the SEC after defeating a talented Arkansas team 38-28 in the SEC championship game.
Not many gave Meyer’s team much of a chance against Tressel’s juggernaut squad from the Big Ten, but the tide was about turn college football on its head.
“The speed on defense was insurmountable,” Meyer said of Florida’s 41-14 shellacking of the Buckeyes.
“It was just different. On offense, we did a good job. We knew they were very strong inside, so we just played around them.”
They also played around with them
After Ted Ginn Jr. returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, it was all Florida. And all SEC. Out of that game, and that victory, the current SEC dominance over college football was hatched.
“The SEC the last few years,” Meyer said, “is kind of the kingpin with the success they’ve had in the BCS.”
That Florida win in 2006 sparked a six-year run that has seen the champion of the SEC take home college football’s crystal ball each and every year. Meyer has two of them, including his second one at Florida in 2008.
Many have attributed this run to the SEC’s defensive speed in the front seven, but Meyer believes it’s more than just that group.
“I think that the front seven speed is a difference, and I also think just overall team speed right now,” he said Thursday at his first Big Ten Media Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago.
“We're addressing that. I notice it on special teams, in spring practice I noticed that, whether you're three or four, your next best player. So I just think overall athleticism right now we're a little bit behind, but we're recruiting with that motive and that intention and I'm real proud to say it's going very well.”
Last year’s BCS championship game pitted Nick Saban’s Alabama squad against LSU coach Les Miles. Those two coaches, along with Meyer, have accounted six of the last nine national champions.
Meyer, Saban and Miles are a combined 17-6 in Bowl games while coaching in the SEC, which is where the Big Ten has to improved, Meyer believes.
“They have to win bowl games,” he said.
“That's the bottom line in all of this is to win. How far we are from that? The coaches in this conference would know much better than I would. I'll know more obviously next year when you ask that same question. I'll have a much better understanding because I'll be in the stadiums and I'll know the teams much better.”
Meyer doesn’t like to speak on a subject until he has experienced it for himself, but he knows football. He got to see a number of these Big Ten programs up close during his year away from football—including the one he is now coaching in Columbus.
While the SEC still reigns supreme, Meyer believes there could be winds of changing heading for college football.
“I know one thing,” he said.
“I've watched enough film this summer to know there are some very good teams in this conference. I anticipate winning is not that far off.”
Primarily because Meyer knows that winning at the highest level starts not with high-powered, explosive, unique offensive systems like the one he will run at OSU, but on the other side of the ball.
“There's some great defense in this league, which there's always been,” said Meyer, who retained OSU interim head coach Luke Fickell as his defensive coordinator.
“There's several teams right now playing as good as defense as anybody in America. It’s going to be interesting, the evolution, in the next few years with the coaching transitions that are taking place.”
Along with Meyer, the conference welcomed Tim Beckman and Bill O’Brien to the Big Ten coaching fraternity this summer. Beckman is a former Meyer assistant at Bowling Green who takes over for Ron Zook at Illinois.
The sanctions levied against Penn State will make it nearly impossible for O’Brien to contribute much over the next 5-10 years, but there are other strong coaches in the conference. That includes Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and Brady Hoke at Michigan.
“So the one thing about college football, it's very cyclical, and the Big Ten for many, many years was without question the No. 1 conference in America,” Meyer added.
“Right now, we're not, but there are a lot of coaches and players right now very intent on making it the best conference in America.”
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