Meyer began SEC title run, now wants to end it

Urban Meyer had officially been the head coach at Ohio State for

maybe 10 minutes when he was hit with his first question about his

old conference.

So, is the Southeastern Conference better than the Big Ten, and

if so, why?

”It’s obvious that the SEC right now is dominant,” the

ex-Florida coach said in November 2011 at his first news conference

as new head man of the Buckeyes. ”It’s a faster league than the

Big Ten. Does it mean it’s a better league? Yeah, it’s the best

conference in college football. Does it mean the Big Ten’s far

behind? I don’t think it’s that far. I think you’ll see the game

change again. It changes all the time.”

Since Meyer spoke those words the SEC has won two more national

championships, stretching to seven its unprecedented domination of

the college game’s landscape.

No conference had ever won even three consecutive titles since

The Associated Press began its poll in 1936.

It was Meyer who lit the fuse on that string of success, winning

the title after the 2006 season. More than most, he knows what

makes the SEC such a powerhouse. Does he have any insight into what

it will take for Ohio State or Oregon or Stanford or someone else

to break through?

”I don’t think it’s just the Big Ten, I think everyone is

chasing the SEC,” Meyer said last month in Chicago at the Big

Ten’s preseason get-together. ”And it’s well-deserved. If you look

in the (NFL) draft, that’ll answer it. There are just more (SEC)

guys getting drafted. That doesn’t mean the Big Ten doesn’t have

great players. There are great players in the Big Ten

conference.

”The SEC has more great players.”

The SEC’s control of the sport began with Meyer during his days

at Florida with a landslide 41-14 victory over unbeaten and No. 1

Ohio State in the 2006 season’s national title game. After another

SEC school, LSU, routed the Buckeyes again a year later, Meyer and

the Gators added another crystal trophy in 2008. The SEC’s iron

grip on No. 1 has continued to this day.

Now Meyer is at Ohio State and is on the other side, trying to

break that streak.

He concedes it may help that he has insight into what it might

take to do that because of his up-close look at the SEC in his six

years at Florida (2005-10) and another year spent as a college

football analyst at ESPN.

”I know the highest level,” he said. ”Yep. I think it helps,

to answer your question.”

But he backed away from making any promises that this might be

the year the domination ends or that his Buckeyes might be the team

to do it.

”I’m not worried about the SEC,” he said recently during Ohio

State’s preparation for its 2013 opener. ”I’m worried about the

Big Ten.”

A glance at the preseason AP poll doesn’t appear to show that

anyone is gaining ground on the SEC.

Alabama, winner of the last two national titles and three of the

last four, is a clear-cut choice as No. 1. Ohio State is second,

but there are five SEC teams in the top 10 for the second year in a

row in the initial poll. Georgia is No. 5, South Carolina No. 6,

Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel are at No. 7

and Florida is at No. 10.

By the way, the SEC’s coaches don’t even think Manziel – who

gave the conference its fourth Heisman winner in the last six years

– is the best quarterback in the league. They picked Georgia’s

Aaron Murray as preseason first team.

Is it any wonder that some coaches and schools are getting tired

of hearing about the SEC?

”Don’t talk to me about the SEC. Let’s compare specific

programs,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said at the Big Ten preseason

meetings. ”The whole SEC isn’t Alabama, isn’t LSU, isn’t Georgia.

Let’s talk about certain teams. . There are some teams in the SEC

that are trying to bridge the gap to be us. Everybody wants to lump

the whole SEC into one category. Let’s not go there.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was asked during a trip to Ohio

State about his conference vs. the SEC’s upper hand.

”We’ve had opportunities to play in some big games and we’ve

won some and missed on some others,” he said. ”With the resources

we have and the commitment on the academic and athletic side that

we think is the right way. As far as academics and athletics, we

are the gold standard.”

Then he acknowledged that the SEC might just be a diamond

standard, or whatever’s better than gold when it comes to winning

games and titles.

”You just take your hat off to (the SEC) and respect them for

what they’ve done and you continue to chase the brass ring,” he

said.

When Meyer talks about the biggest difference between his old

conference and others, he falls back on a familiar refrain: ”SEC

speed.”

To him, the league is faster, top to bottom, but particularly on

the defensive line and at linebacker. South Carolina has fearsome

junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, perhaps as quick as many

acclaimed major-college running backs.

Meyer and his staff have stretched the typical geographical

borders of Ohio State’s recruiting. The Buckeyes appear to be

getting more players out of the SEC’s back (or front) yard. The

current roster includes six players from Georgia, five from Texas,

four from Florida and six more from California, the Carolinas and

Virginia.

The Buckeyes are clearly pursuing SEC speed.

”We’re a faster team,” Meyer said of his current team.

He compares the influx of speed to what took place with that

first championship team at Florida.

”The `06 team injected a bunch of speed and playmakers into

that team,” he said. ”I see very similar qualities (here).”

Of course, it’s easy to say you’re matching up more with the

SEC. It’s another matter entirely to win a showdown on the

field.

Asked if the Buckeyes or the Big Ten have the capacity to end

the SEC’s control of the top spot, Meyer said: ”Sure. Why do you

think every day we’re waking up, trying to change that?”

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