Recent events confirm one thing about the national profile of the Ohio State football program.
As the kids say, it’s out there. Good, bad and/or occasionally ugly, Ohio State is under no one’s radar.
Because of last year’s bowl ban, the Buckeyes haven’t lost a game but have won a bunch of nothing on the field in 18 months under Urban Meyer. They’re winning the popularity contest that is the all-important recruiting game and they’re losing a couple of popularity contests, too, at least in some circles. Every good plot line needs both good guys and bad guys, right?
The fightin’ words of Ohio State president Gordon Gee and his unprovoked shots at Notre Dame, the SEC and Louisville, to name a few, didn’t bring especially good publicity this week. Those words will be remembered, and if it all culminates with Ohio State playing in one of those really big bowl games against an SEC school, Notre Dame or Louisville, they’ll resurface.
Then, they’d be filed under the category of good problems to have. Getting to the game’s biggest stage is supposed to be the goal at Ohio State, and it’s a much better way to get national attention than Gee speaking before really thinking about what he’s saying. Ohio State has the talent on hand and the soft schedule on tap to start the 2013 season as a top-five team nationally and finish it there, too. The Buckeyes are not only back but have a real chance to be remembered.
This all meshes, even if Meyer — who was raised Catholic and named for a Pope — would probably like to call Gee into his office and offer his own reprimand for his shots at Catholics and his saying, “You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we’re doing.”
Yeah. That one’s not going to go over well.
There’s proof that Ohio State is “out there” beyond apologies and off-color headlines, too. During a discussion on schedule strength earlier this week at an SEC meeting, Alabama coach Nick Saban used Ohio State’s 2012 team as an example of how, had the Buckeyes been bowl eligible, the SEC’s run of national championships could have ended without Alabama even getting a chance to play for the national title.
“How well would they have done if they played the six (SEC) teams ranked in the top 10?” Saban asked of Ohio State.
It wasn’t a shot, per se. In fact, it was a very valid question. But Saban didn’t talk around the question as many coaches do or frame a vague reference to a school from another conference and how it might compete and survive in the weekly SEC grind. He specifically referenced the team coached by his old pal* Meyer, and he knew fully well that his comments would make their rounds quickly.
“I think they (Ohio State) have a really good team and Urban (Meyer) is a great coach,” Saban said. “Iím not questioning any of that. Iím just saying thatís where strength of schedule and who you play donít get sort of accounted for quite equally.”
It’s tough to say any program is ready to stop the SEC’s run of dominance until it actually happens. That Saban sees the Buckeyes as a somewhat worthy potential adversary, at least, should be taken in Ohio State country as a compliment.
Not all PR is good PR, and though Ohio State hopes this will be Gee’s last foot-in-mouth moment, it’s certainly not his first. In Meyer the Buckeyes have a rock-star coach who’s not quite Saban but certainly was worth every dime with the way he won last year under strange and new circumstances and seems to have turned lofty, national goals into realistic ones already.
Ohio State didn’t get Meyer out of his brief free agency and start paying assistant coaches the going SEC rate — or even above — to go, say, 9-3. And, sure, the university and the Big Ten are embarrassed by what Gee said because a university president shouldn’t be saying those things. But the list of goals for Ohio State’s programs includes national prominence and in-conference dominance, and Meyer has both been there before and isn’t afraid to dangle the chance to get back there, soon, in front of his new players.
Whether or not the meaning of what he really said got lost in context, Meyer was quoted earlier this year as saying the rest of the Big Ten needed to start recruiting better. His entrance in the home stretch of the 2012 recruiting season wasn’t exactly a friendly one as he signed recruits that had been previously committed to Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Recruiting is a brutal game, one with no time for aplogies or splitting of prizes. If Meyer is a bully that’s fine, as long as the wins back up his words and actions.
If we learned one thing this week it’s that in a sense, it’s going to be Urban Meyer and His Guys vs. Everybody starting Aug. 31.
It might have been already, and that’s a sign of progress. It’s not a knock on low-profile, high-win percentage Jim Tressel and the way he ran the Ohio State program. It’s simply a sign of the times, and if six of the top 10 teams every year are going to be from the SEC, the competition for those other four spots is going to be intense. And it’s going to include Ohio State, probably at least a couple other schools Gee recently offended and maybe the one Meyer really gets paid to beat, Michigan.
There are always going to be sideshows in big-time college football, and at least until the playoff begins after the 2014 season, there are always going to be arguments that can’t really be resolved. Ohio State is all but officially back in them, and — presidential missteps aside — all the Buckeyes can do is try to play themselves toward a shot vs. the SEC and the chance to settle it all on the field.