You once hated Urban Meyer. It’s OK to admit it.
It was just 10 years ago that the state of Ohio declared Meyer public enemy number one, after the Ashtabula native and his Florida Gators thumped Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, 41-14.
I remember reading speculation before the game that Meyer could succeed Tressel in Columbus after The Senator eventually hung his sweater vest up for good. To hell with that, I thought, filled with the arrogance and naivety of a teenager expecting his team to win a national title. Why would we want this upstart coach with a gimmicky offense to replace the school’s greatest winner since Woody Hayes?
Little did I know Urban Meyer is a General, determined to rip out your soul, winning a game in the process.
It seemed inconceivable that the Buckeyes would lose that championship game in Phoenix, let alone get embarrassed. Ohio State opened the year as the top-ranked team in the country, and for an entire season that’s where they remained, beating the second-ranked team in the nation twice along the way.
None of that mattered to Urban Meyer. On that fateful night in January, the Buckeyes looked slow, overwhelmed and under-prepared. The quick-twitch Gators played with the swagger, confidence, and precise execution that’s been associated with any Meyer team ever since.
The Debacle in the Desert also ushered in the second leg of Tressel’s tenure in Columbus, in which the Buckeyes too often looked overmatched against college football’s elite. And Tressel never regained the unbeatable aura that previously followed him into big games.
Buckeye Nation has likely put those bitter memories in the rear view, so why bring them up now? Because Oklahoma very much resembled those Buckeye teams that were embarrassed by the Floridas, LSUs and USCs of the world. And Meyer has taken those teams that once made you miserable and donned them in Scarlet and Grey.
Remember when the Buckeyes were conquered so simply by USC in 2008, that by halftime you wondered how the program had fallen so far behind? That has to be how Sooner fans felt as Ohio State outmatched Oklahoma in every facet of the game on Saturday.
Or how about the chorus of S-E-C! S-E-C! chants that rained down upon the field as Florida and LSU mauled OSU in consecutive title games?
That was replaced by the strength of Buckeye Nation, which took over Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, bellowing a rolling O-H-I-O chant throughout the second half; the college football equivalent of taking your flag to an enemy’s country and firmly placing it in their soil.
There was a moment when I knew that the Buckeyes would prevail victorious Saturday night. It wasn’t when Jerome Baker intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass for a touchdown, pushing the score to 14-0. It wasn’t when Noah Brown extended Ohio State’s lead to 18 right before the half, hauling in what should be the catch of the year:
The game hadn’t kicked off yet. The broadcast had just started. As Oklahoma took the field for the opening kickoff, Meyer brought his coverage unit aside for a prolonged huddle. The words he spoke were not audible to those watching at home, but the intensity in his eyes rang true.
The general had his troops prepared. The first line was being sent into battle.
Ohio State entered the season as the youngest team in college football, with only six returning starters and six scholarship seniors on the roster. Even as a preseason top-ten team, the Buckeyes flew under the radar. If Ohio State was to contend for a conference or national title, it would come after some early-season growing pains.
That perception will likely never surround the program again under Meyer. Not after his young Bucks undressed a quality opponent on the road. In prime time. On national television.
Despite all the hype the SEC received for winning seven straight titles from 2006-2012, the conference’s reign can, in a sense, be attributed to two men. Meyer won two championships with Florida in 2006 and 2008. Nick Saban won three with Alabama, in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
The other two titles were claimed by LSU and Auburn. LSU, of course, beat the Buckeyes in 2007, with a team of seniors recruited by Saban, who coached the program through 2004. Auburn was carried to its title by Cam Newton, who started his college career with Meyer’s Gators, but had to transfer after violating school rules.
Saban has now won four titles with Alabama, and it’s assumed that his Crimson Tide will contend for a national championship every year, regardless of attrition from the prior season. Meyer has accomplished less so far in Columbus, but the same should be assumed of his Buckeyes.
Did you think that you were going to miss Michael Thomas and Taylor Decker? Darron Lee and Vonn Bell? It’s easy to forget those first and second round picks when Meyer replaces them with equal, if not higher-rated recruits.
Have you enjoyed watching Curtis Samuel being thrust into a featured role? How about Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore seemingly intercepting every pass thrown their way? Enjoy that now, this could very well be the last season any of them play for the Buckeyes.
And that’s OK. Their departure would only pave the way for another crop of hungry, young talent, and a 2017 recruiting class pacing to be one of the greatest of all time.
In a sport that relies on the arms of 21-year-old quarterbacks and the hands of 19-year-old receivers, there are few certainties in college football. Kirk Ferentz receiving a contract extension and then losing to North Dakota State is probably one of them. As is Jim Harbaugh being a cyborg that functions on the fuel of its own ... Well, you know:
Ohio State being a perennial contender for bigger and better things is a certainty too. As long as it has General Meyer leading the way.