Now that spring is upon us, many teams are ready to lay the foundation of success. Ohio State already started that pursuit back on November 28th, and the hiring of Urban Meyer has centered on the potential it has of elevating the Ohio State program.
That's all fine and good, and certainly worth noting, but lost in the Buckeye leaves is what Urban in the Big Ten means for the entire conference. Is it possible that the hiring of Meyer could be the catalyst toward healing the black eye that the Big Ten has been seen trying to slather ointment on for a few years?
Nobody really knows when it got to this point, but like a fire burning slowly out, the Big Ten has lost its football blood lines. It’s gone from THE conference to just a conference over the last several years. There are many reasons why, but the precipitous decline of some of the traditional powers before this year is a good jumping off point.
A premier conference has to not only be solid from top to bottom, but have the horses at the top to compete, if not win the entire college football race. To state that the conference has been lacking in that aspect would be an understatement. And that's before the Buckeyes hit a major traffic detour last year.
Despite the emergence to a degree of Wisconsin and Michigan State, and aside from this year, it has been Ohio State and a litany of other schools making their way through the conference’s revolving doors. Penn State has been there, but not on a consistent basis. Illinois dipped its toes in the water and quickly jumped out, and everybody else is just mingling around in the lobby, hesitant to go into the show.
That has left Ohio State to carry the torch...and in recent years, the Buckeyes kept burning their eyebrows instead of running for the gold. There was the debacle in the BCS Championship in the Phoenix area to the Meyer coached Gators in 2007, a follow up pasting at the hands of another SEC school—LSU in New Orleans in 2008, a loss to Texas in yet another BCS bowl in 2009, and an embarrassing showing on the doorsteps of Hollywood in prime time against the USC Trojans.
All of it proved to be a sucker punch to the gut of a once proud conference, and it's still trying to catch its breath from the wind being knocked out of its collective psyche.
Then there’s the SEC. The mere mention of those three letters have made folks in the Big Ten lobby for it to be a four letter word. Ohio State finally got the monkey off its back by beating Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl (self-imposed blotting out notwithstanding), but before then, the Big Ten’s best team was left feeling about as gray the weather that rolls around every November in those parts whenever it was matched up with an SEC team in a bowl.
And even though the rest of the Big Ten‘s performance has been respectable, the flops on the big stage by the bully of the Big Ten neighborhood has set the bar of abominations that have been hard to recover from.
There's no denying that the SEC is king, yet nobody in Big Ten country wants to admit it. The reality, though, is that with its sixth straight national title, there is little argument that holds any kind of water, and the league where football’s ancestry runs deep is in catch up mode—and in serious danger of being lapped.
Enter stage left Urban Meyer. He has Midwestern roots (Ohio), helped form the reputation of both the SEC and Big Ten by winning two national titles while at the school that threw the first haymaker, and brings a main dish of swagger with a second helping of innovative offense to go with blue-chip recruiting for dessert.
While the Big Ten may not have the same brother to brother camaraderie as the SEC fans, it’d still be hard to argue that the rest of the league wouldn’t be happy about the punch that a guy like Urban Meyer could bring.
To do it, Meyer’s going to have to shun the traditional stereotypes of the bratwurst and cheese league—and it should be interesting. The Big Ten—and Ohio State notably, has been known for its big bruising tailbacks, and while the whole lack of speed thing may be a bit overblown, Meyer will have to recruit more speed on both the offensive and defensive lines to start not only playing with the big boys, but beating them consistently.
Whether OSU will still get the crème of the Ohio tailback crop to come to Woody Hayes drive to play in a variation of the spread remains to be seen, but so far at least early on in recruiting, Meyer already has players interested from all parts of the country who would not normally be.
A mutual fund stock broker would jump all over these immediate dividends. Although speed wasn’t really the issue at OSU anyway, it certainly won’t ever be under a guy like Meyer.
The fine institutions in the heartland are also going to have to start paying its coaches—not just the head coaches, but the assistant coaches as much as the schools in the SEC. You can check off box one with the hiring of Meyer, and with Michigan shelling out the cash for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. And now, with the public support that OSU AD Gene Smith has already promised to Meyer and his soon-to-be assembled staff as far as “any and all resources,” things appear to be changing.
It’ll be an interesting metamorphosis for Ohio State. Gone will be the days of Woody and the “three yards and a cloud of rubber pellets” offense. Gone, too, will be the buttoned up ways of Tressel and the game plan of “running to set up the punt.” Even the forward pass just might be used without having to break the glass in case of an emergency.
Rumor also has it that telephones, computers and wi-fi have been scheduled as an upgrade in the ‘Shoe. For Ohio State fans, it’ll more than likely be a welcome sight, and if history is any indication, it’ll breed success with the rest of the conference needing to follow suit—if it has any kind of competitive DNA in its make-up.
Yes, we’ll all be curious if this hire by Ohio State will go south like the Rich Rodriguez experiment, or if it begins and upper trajectory for a league so desperate for an improved image.
Michigan has already raised its hand in class with a Sugar Bowl win, and if Tim Beckman can get it going at Illinois, Nebraska shows that it's Nebraska, Penn State weathers its storm under Bill O'Brien, Wisconsin and Michigan State stay late at the party, and the rest of the league tries to keep up with the Jones’, things could get as interesting as the recruiting war of words now going on in the Midwest.