August 1, 2012

Meyer eager to bring SEC style, speed to Columbus

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

Despite being fully entrenched as one of the new faces of the Big Ten, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer doesn't have any delusions as to which conference is currently the best in the country.

"The Big Ten for many, many years was without question the No. 1 conference in America. Right now, we're not," Meyer said at the Big Ten media day in Chicago last week. "The SEC, the last few years, is kind of the kingpin with the success they've had in the BCS."

If anybody should know about the South Eastern Conference's current dominance over the college football landscape, it's Meyer.

The head coach at Florida from 2005-2010, Meyer won two national championships during his time with the Gators. In fact, it was Florida's win over Ohio State to capture the 2006 national title that jump started what is currently a six-year streak of national championships that have been won by four different SEC schools. And it was in that 41-14 rout over the Buckeyes in Glendale, Ariz. where the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten was made most apparent.

Led by a pass rush that consisted of a pair of NFL first round picks in defensive ends Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, the Gators only allowed the Buckeyes to gain 82 yards thanks to the consistent pressure that they placed on Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith. On offense, they racked up 370 yards- 216 passing and 156 rushing.

"The speed on defense was instrumental. It was just different. I mean, you saw it," Meyer said. "On offense we did a good job. We knew that they were very powerful inside. So we didn't play around. We just- if you remember the first play of the game, Percy Harvin was a freshman, we just played a lot of horizontal and tried to get them to do this a little bit, and then we started doing that."

But that was all six seasons ago, when Meyer was at a different school and in a different conference. Now the two-time national champion coach finds himself faced with the task of bringing that SEC-style speed and success up north to Columbus.

Having spent just eight months and little more than one session of spring practices at Ohio State, Meyer has already seen where his team has some catching up to do, but he's also already taken steps towards closing the gap between the Buckeyes and potential SEC opponents.

"Overall athleticism right now we're a little bit behind. But we're recruiting with that motive, with that intention and I'm real proud to say it's going very well," Meyer said. "But I think without question I'm not the only one that says that. The defensive front seven in that conference, in the SEC, is the difference‑maker right now. But it's a little bit deeper than that."

That's not to say that the Ohio State roster doesn't already have some pieces in place that will help accelerate the Buckeyes' transition into the type of team that Meyer wants them to be. Especially on the defense line, where Meyer sees the biggest gap between the Big Ten and the SEC, the Ohio State coach has mentioned defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive end John Simon as players who could play for any team in the country.

"They're SEC players. No question," Meyer said of his defensive line duo. "Which is kind of how you measure them now."

While Meyer certainly appears to have the Buckeyes on track to measure up with the nation's elite conference, Ohio State can only carry the Big Ten so far. With 11 other teams in the conference, the Buckeyes will need some help in elevating its current reputation, and Meyer already has a measuring stick to evaluate where the Big Ten stands.

"They have to win Bowl games. That's the bottom line in all of this is to win," Meyer said "How far we are from that? The coaches in this conference would know much better than I would."

But as Meyer prepares for his first season as a head coach in the Big Ten, he already sees his new opponents taking steps in the right direction.

"I think it was eight out of the 12 teams are running some sort of spread offense right now. And then there's two option offenses and then traditional offenses, and that's obviously a drastic change from historically what you think of the Big Ten," Meyer said. "There's some great defense in this league, which there's always been. But there's several teams right now playing as good defense as anybody in America. So I think it has changed, but it's going to be interesting, the evolution, in the next few years with the coaching transitions that are taking place. So the one thing about college football, it's very cyclical."


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