Urban Meyer, Ohio State primed to dominate the Big Ten; Walkthrough
Urban Meyer is on the verge of taking over the Big Ten games into his OSU tenure
LSU-Florida, Georgia-South Carolina, West Virginia-Texas, more Week 6 previews
Plus: Quote of the week, moment of the week, Jim Tressel's news segment, more
The song is called Buckeye Swag, and according to Ohio State trumpet player Todd Fessler, The Best Damn Band in the Land made it up one day last year and the Buckeyes football team fell in love with it. It sounds like hip-hop with brass, like the best Trick Daddy song that never got recorded.
As the band played Buckeye Swag in one corner of Spartan Stadium last Saturday, Ohio State players bounced with the beat. So did their coach. It might not be entirely accurate to suggest that Urban Meyer danced, but it would be wholly accurate to say the Buckeyes' first-year coach got down. He bobbed between hugs from offensive lineman Marcus Hall, quarterback Braxton Miller and tailback Carlos Hyde. All the while, Meyer smiled like a kid who had just tasted chocolate for the first time.
The last time I saw Meyer that happy, he wasn't holding a crystal football. The moment came before either of his national championships. It was Oct. 29, 2005. Meyer was in the corner of whatever they're calling the stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., these days, hugging his players as the band blasted out a tune. That day, Florida had held on for a 14-10 upset of No. 4 Georgia. Two weeks earlier, Meyer had shed tears beneath Tiger Stadium as the realization washed over him that his beloved offense wouldn't work in the SEC until he had the right players to run it. Over the course of an off week and the Georgia game week, Meyer and his staff had installed a bare-bones, almost pro-style offense that fit the players they had. Florida scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, and the defense did the rest. The wide smiles from Meyer and his coaches after that game said one thing: We can do this. We can win here.
They smiled those same smiles Saturday in East Lansing. As I watched Meyer and strength coach Mickey Marotti celebrate, I realized it might be time to warn the other programs in the Big Ten about what will happen in the next few years. So here it goes:
You are completely screwed.
You might get Meyer this season. His Buckeyes are still fragile and vulnerable at times. Heck, Nebraska might even beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe Saturday. But Meyer will put you through a living nightmare in successive seasons. It won't last forever, because the same external factors that plagued Meyer at the end of his tenure at Florida exist at Ohio State, but the next few years will be miserable.
You got a taste of the way Meyer recruits this past offseason. Wisconsin's Bret Bielema complained about Meyer's aggressiveness, which went right up to the NCAA's line and might have crossed it. So did Michigan State's Mark Dantonio. Meyer's statement to a group of Ohio high school coaches this offseason sums up his philosophy. "You're [ticked] because we went after a committed guy?" Meyer told the coaches, according to Brandon Castel of theozone.net. "Guess what, we've got nine [assistant coaches] who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time."
Now Meyer has had a full year to put together his next class. He already has an inherent advantage. When I did the State of Recruiting project in 2009, Ohio was by far the most talent-rich state in the Big Ten, and most of those players grow up wanting to be Buckeyes. Pennsylvania came in second in the Big Ten in that study, and with Penn State mired in its own NCAA hell, Meyer can pillage the Keystone State as well. In the class of 2013, Meyer has plenty of commitments from Ohio, but he also has dipped into Texas, Georgia and South Carolina. Meyer can't oversign at Ohio State, but Florida didn't allow him to oversign, either. So recruiting at Ohio State should be easier, because all of Meyer's conference rivals must play by the same rules. (And if a few of them keep honoring the mocked-by-everyone-else "gentlemen's agreements" about recruiting committed players, that also makes things easier for Meyer.)
Unlike the rest of the coaches in the Big Ten, Meyer understands what a program must do to win a national championship in this era of college football. In the SEC, Meyer had Les Miles, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt to keep him in check, but even they couldn't stop him once he signed a class that included quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes. It took Nick Saban building a bigger juggernaut at Alabama to finally topple Meyer. None of the other coaches in the Big Ten have proven they can recruit or coach at the level of Miles, Spurrier, Richt and Saban, but they'll have to figure it out quickly. Maybe Michigan's Brady Hoke is that foil -- his recruiting in Ohio over the past year is a positive sign for Michigan's future -- but a look at his team combined with a look at Meyer's team this season suggests Meyer has a big head start.
Ohio State dominated the Big Ten in the first decade of this century, and Jim Tressel left plenty of infrastructure in place even though he also brought on the NCAA sanctions that threatened to wreck the program. Just as Ron Zook left behind a wealth of defensive talent at Florida for Meyer to inherit, Tressel left behind a group of players who understand winning. Those players will help educate the hotshot recruits Meyer brings in on National Signing Days to come. Meanwhile, if Meyer chooses correctly, those recruits will take his offense to another level. On Saturday, someone asked Meyer about the spate of high-scoring games. Meyer smiled. "I like a 70 every once in a while," he said. If Meyer gets the skill players he wants, he'll hang 70 points on some Big Ten opponent in the not-too-distant future.
The suffering probably won't last forever, Big Ten programs. At Florida, the expectations grew too big, and Meyer's recruiting -- at least on the offensive side of the ball -- tailed off. The outside stuff Meyer calls "nonsense" is as thick in Columbus as it is in Gainesville, so unless Meyer has truly changed his mindset and work habits, this job will grow just as cumbersome as the Florida job. But while he is fresh and relishing the competition, Meyer will do everything in his power to grind his Big Ten opponents to dust on the field and on the recruiting trail.
As her husband finished jamming with the band last Saturday, Shelley Meyer stepped onto the field to join the celebration. "I don't know why we're doing this again," she joked. Moments before, as he stood next to Miller and made an O with his arms, Urban Meyer had provided the answer. Meanwhile, in the stands, one boisterous Ohio State fan screamed words that echoed across the Big Ten. "We love you, Meyer!" he yelled. "We f-----' love you! We are back, baby! We are back!"
Northwestern at Penn State: This is a big one for the Wildcats. A win here would give them their first 6-0 start since 1962. It's equally big for Penn State. After beating Illinois in a vengeance game, the Nittany Lions will try to prove that they can still be competitive in the Big Ten by winning their conference home opener. Penn State blew its first game against Ohio and lost at Virginia because of kicking issues, but the Nittany Lions have looked much better in recent weeks. None of those opponents were nearly as good as Northwestern, which averages 255.8 rushing yards a game.
Arkansas at Auburn: Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright (shoulder) and tight Chris Gragg (bone bruise) will miss Saturday's game on the Plains, meaning the Razorbacks' nightmare season will probably only get worse. Auburn should have some confidence after hanging tough against LSU two weeks ago. This should give the Tigers even more. It could launch a nice run -- Auburn's next two games are at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt -- before a visit from Texas A&M Oct. 27.
Arizona at Stanford: Stanford's slower offensive tempo could provide a welcome break for Arizona's banged-up defense. After three games in four weeks against teams that play as fast or faster than their own offense -- Arizona faced 269 plays against Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oregon State -- the Wildcats will face a more deliberate attack. Of course, once Stanford's massive offensive line starts pounding on the Wildcats, they may wish they were playing another up-tempo spread team.
Iowa State at TCU: Now we'll see if actually missing playing time will make TCU quarterback Casey Pachall a little smarter. TCU coach Gary Patterson didn't suspend Pachall for an earlier positive drug test, but Patterson did suspend Pachall indefinitely after Pachall's arrest early Thursday morning on suspicion of drunk driving. (He blew a .15, according to jail records cited by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.) Now, in spite of the fact that he didn't take first-team snaps on the two most important days of practice, backup Trevone Boykin must start a conference game. Here's betting Pachall's indefinite suspension ends before the Horned Frogs face Baylor in Waco Oct. 13. Pachall, who is lucky he didn't hurt someone else or himself, will have to hope his stupidity doesn't cost his team a game. And hopefully, he'll learn to call a cab or a friend.
LSU at Florida: As if LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo wasn't already the most terrifying person ever to answer to the name Keke, there now exists a possibility that you might be minding your own business and he could DROP OUT OF THE SKY and sack you. This probably should scare Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, but it probably doesn't. In his brief time as the Gators' starter, Driskel has come off as the type who doesn't rattle easily. What looked like a bloodbath a few weeks ago now seems fairly intriguing. If Florida can win this one, it will serve as proof that the SEC East race might extend beyond tomorrow's game between Georgia and South Carolina in Columbia.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech: Here's a not-so-bold prediction: Texas Tech won't have the No. 1 statistical defense in the nation after playing the Sooners. But that doesn't mean the Red Raiders can't win. Texas Tech's lofty ranking owes partly to improvement and partly to overmatched competition. Oklahoma isn't overmatched, but the Sooners should be worried. Remember, Texas Tech ranked 114th in the nation in total defense last season, and the Red Raiders still managed to beat Oklahoma in Norman before the wheels fell off the Sooners' offense.
Georgia at South Carolina: On Thursday, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said this on his radio show: "That other USC is not ranked as high as this USC. Maybe they need to change their logo." When Spurrier is lobbing grenades like that, it means he likes where his team is at. Does that mean the Gamecocks' defense is good enough to stop Gurshall? That remains to be seen. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they'll be without receiver Michael Bennett, who tore an ACL this week in practice and is out for the remainder of the season.
West Virginia at Texas: Our favorite stat wonk, the great Bill Connelly of SBNation, posed a fascinating question this week that probably hasn't been asked in a positive manner in the past year. What did Randy Edsall do? Specifically, how did Maryland limit West Virginia to 363 yards and 31 points during its meeting with the Mountaineers Sept. 22? You should read the entire story, but the best advice Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz can glean is to stop the run and hope that the Longhorns remember how to make fundamentally sound tackles. West Virginia's receivers, especially Tavon Austin, do a lot of damage after breaking a tackle or juking a defender.
Florida State at NC State: NC State fans got quite mad when I poked fun at the atmosphere at Carter-Finley Stadium in the Power Rankings Tuesday. Granted, I may have been a bit harsh, but I'm used to covering games at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tiger Stadium and other places where the crowds roar a lot louder than the ones in the ACC. Given its defensive performance at Miami last week, the Wolfpack is going to need the fans to sound like LSU's crowd. If NC State has as great of a crowd as suggested on my Twitter feed this week, they'll do that.
Washington at Oregon: Can the Huskies ride the momentum of last Thursday night's win against Stanford to an upset of the Ducks? Don't count on it. Washington had already seen a better version of Stanford's offense (LSU), and the failures of the trip to Baton Rouge made great teaching tools as the Huskies prepared for the Cardinal. There is no better version of Oregon's offense. The only way to stop the Ducks is with vastly superior athletes, and Washington -- while recruiting well of late -- does not have enough of those yet.
"I always wear my own belt. And the reason is because my belt's broken in. They have these belts... in college football, those Rhinestone Cowboy-looking belts kind of took over -- you know, with all the metal hardware on them. You know what I mean? That just wasn't my style. I'm sure it looks great on some people. What is this? I've got a belt, and there's this hunk of metal studded throughout the thing or whatever? So I didn't like those. Then I had another one that was just kind of plasticy and stiff. So I just said 'Screw this. I'm going to just wear my belt.' So I do that."
-- Washington State coach Mike Leach on his sartorial choices. In the same press conference, Leach gave us the image of officials walking in on Leach bent over a table receiving a B12 shot before games at Texas Tech.
How does an athletic department convince students at a commuter school to come watch an 0-5 team play New Hampshire? Straight cash, homey. Georgia State students will be brought on to the field, where $10,000 in cash will be dropped from the rafters. I was curious as to whether Georgia State basketball post players, who would have an obvious cash-grabbing advantage because of their height, wingspan and leaping ability, could participate given the NCAA's rules against extra benefits. So I asked John Infante, a former athletic department compliance officer and the author of the essential Bylaw Blog, for an interpretation. Infante wrote that since the cash drop is open to any student, then it would not qualify as an extra benefit for a Georgia State athlete. To all those grabbing for the cash, good luck in the scrum.
Jim Tressel is a member of a news team. This could escalate quickly.
Now that Jim Tressel has joined a news team, it's time for other former coaches to get with the program. Get your tridents ready.
5. Rich Brooks: The former Oregon and Kentucky coach's Twitter feed is loaded with nuggets from a life better than yours or mine. This week, Brooks hit Vegas. He probably walked into a casino, bet the double zero at the roulette table and won. Brooks, who once had a special edition Maker's Mark bottle produced in his honor, will make a perfect lifestyle reporter. At least until he gets hired for the next round of Dos Equis commercials.
4. Ron Prince: The Internet demands the former Kansas State coach be hired for every available job, but I'm thinking of a special niche. Every week, Prince explains to viewers how to negotiate secret agreements that guarantee millions no matter how spectacularly the employee fails.
3. Lloyd Carr: For five minutes at the end of each edition of PBS NewsHour, the former Michigan coach reads from the works of Homer. Rosy-fingered Dawn never sounded so stately.
2. Houston Nutt: Sure, the former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach -- known affectionately as "The Right Revered" -- already has his own TV gig on the CBS Sports Network. But the Trinity Broadcasting Network has truly missed out on a great lead anchor.
1. Bobby Petrino: In the weekly "Dear Bobby" segment, everyone's favorite tandem motorcyclist gives relationship advice. This gets killer ratings until Petrino is caught meeting with the news directors of all three other affiliates in the market after swearing his undying loyalty to the station that hired him.
I can offer no game-specific, geographic justification for this one unless the folks at UC Irvine decide to create a football team. With this design for a possible Anteaters helmet floating around, I'm not sure why they haven't already. If you do find yourself in Orange County and in need of a mind-blowing, artery-clogging experience, however, go to Slater's 50/50 in Anaheim Hills or Huntington Beach and order the Peanut Butter and Jellousy burger with the one-pound, half ground beef, half ground bacon patty. Yes, it's peanut butter and jelly on a giant beef/bacon burger -- with two more strips of bacon added for good measure. Feel free to squint or wipe your glasses. When you read it again, that sentence will still contain the same key elements: Peanut butter, jelly, beef, bacon. I realize this probably sounds awful. You'll just have to trust me.