In the past two seasons, the Michigan State Spartans have broken through the middling block of teams in their conference and asserted themselves as one of the new marquee faces of Big Ten football.
While Michigan State prepares to play in the biggest game in the recent history of the football program, word broke this morning that the old guard in the Big Ten may soon be up to their old tricks.
The Old Guard: Ohio State. The old tricks: winning conference and national titles.
That is because the Buckeyes made a not-so-surprising hire of Urban Meyer to be their next head coach. You may remember Meyer from such productions as Getting Alex Smith Inexplicably Drafted No. 1 Overall when he was at Utah, or even In Tebow We Trust, a story about two national championships and a Heisman Trophy winner while Meyer coached at the University of Florida.
Now, Meyer will be bringing his high powered offense and incredible feel for the game of football to the Horseshoe in Columbus. While Ohio State performed as well as could have been expected this season under interim coach Luke Fickle and with a Swiss-cheese roster, it was no banner year for the Buckeyes. Undoubtedly, Meyer should have the Ohio State program back to national prominence in a very short amount of time.
How will this impact Michigan State, not to mention the rest of the Big Ten?
Let's start with the good news. No matter who the Buckeyes hired, they remain in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten. The Spartans, by virtue of being a Legend, will only hypothetically have to meet Ohio State in the Conference Title game. It also means the Spartans will not have to worry about having a better conference record than the Buckeyes to qualify for the championship game.
Also, the Spartans will find years where they do not have to face Ohio State in the regular season. In fact, looking into the crystal ball, the Spartans and Buckeyes will play in September of 2012 (theoretically, the Buckeyes shouldn't quite yet be running on all cylinders), but the two teams will not square off in either 2013 or 2014. Good news for Sparty.
In terms of recruiting, the Spartans may take a slight body blow. The current Michigan State roster is filled with players from Ohio (25) and includes high-profile recruits such as Jerel Worthy, Denicos Allen and Le'Veon Bell.
While this isn't to say that all of these guys would have been Buckeyes if Meyer had been patrolling the sidelines in Columbus the past five years, it certainly might have been the case.
Ohio State football carries with it a brand name that puts it among the most prestigious five or six programs in the country. Anyone who believed that the tattoo scandal would have a lasting impact on the program was just wishful thinking. While the Ohio State program will certainly be looking at future impact (most likely the loss of future scholarships) as a result of the Jim Tressel/Terrell Pryor era, I would expect Meyer to have the Buckeyes contending for a Leaders Division title as early as next season.
If you don't believe me, look at Michigan. They had arguably the worst defense in the country in 2010 and barely made it into a bowl game. In 2011, Brady Hoke's first year as head coach (a practical no-name compared to Urban Meyer), Michigan is staring down the barrel of a BCS Bowl Game. With the right people in place, college football can sometimes feel like a pretty simple game.
With Michigan already retooled and Ohio State putting one of the best coaches in the country at the helm, the Michigan State program should enjoy the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. It may be their last one for a while.