The top six seasons of Urban Meyer’s coaching career
Over 13 seasons as a head coach, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has lost a grand total of 26 games. He’s won two national championships and has put together an 8-2 record in bowl games, including last week’s win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. On top of that, he’s led two different teams to undefeated seasons, while taking four others to 13-1 records. In fact, Meyer has never come close to a losing season; his worst years were an 8-5 run in 2010 and a 9-4 season in 2007.
Needless to say, Meyer’s resume speaks for itself, and this year is no exception. But where does 2014 rank among his best coaching jobs of all time? Let’s take a look at the top six and find out.
6. 2009 Florida Gators, 13-1
Just another 13-1 record for Meyer. No big deal, right? After winning two national championships in the span of three seasons, including one the previous year, the Gators entered 2009 as the top-ranked team in the country. This was Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow’s final year in college, and it seemed like this team just wouldn’t lose a game. They started the year out 12-0, and showed their ability to play incredible defense while beating fourth-ranked LSU 13-3. But they could also score points in bunches, beating Georgia 41-17 and FSU 37-10.
Then came that dreaded SEC championship game against second-ranked Alabama. Florida just had no answer for running back Mark Ingram that night, as they dropped the game 32-13 and fell to No. 3 in the rankings. It left Florida on the outside looking in at the shot to play for yet another national championship. Their consolation prize was the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they put on an offensive clinic to end the season on a high note. Tebow threw for 482 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators earned the 51-24 win.
5. 2004 Utah Utes, 12-0
Meyer not only took the Utes to a 12-0 record in his final season with the school, but from a preseason ranking of 20th up to a final ranking of fourth. Utah capped it off by winning the Fiesta Bowl vs. Pittsburgh, 35-7.
But this team didn’t just go undefeated. They did it in dominant fashion, as the Utes’ closest game was a 17-point win over the Arizona Wildcats. Their offense topped 41 points in nine games, and their defense gave up 21 or fewer points seven times, making the 2004 Utes one of Meyer’s most well-rounded teams. That year, Meyer did what he’s done so many other times in his career, setting his quarterback up to succeed in a big way. Alex Smith threw for 2,952 yards, 32 touchdowns and had just four interceptions. On top of that, he rushed for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. The reason why this team ranks fifth on Meyer’s resume is truly due to strength of schedule — which ranked 70th out of 120 in the country — and that the Utes didn’t get a shot at a national championship.
4. 2012 Ohio State, 12-0
While Meyer’s final season with the Gators was in 2010, he took a year off before deciding to come back and coach the team he had beaten for that first national championship, Ohio State. This may have been the season that truly tested Meyer’s coaching ability the most. He entered into a situation where the former boss, Jim Tressel, had known about and allowed his players to break rules. It left Meyer’s new team unable to play in a bowl game and facing other penalties including scholarship cuts. Imagine trying to get your team ready for the upcoming season knowing that there will be no bowl game, regardless of how well they do.
Meyer and his team responded with a 12-0 record, making an argument that they could have been the team to take the national title that year. The Buckeyes started the season ranked 18th and finished third. The season set the stage for Meyer at Ohio State, who had burst onto the scene in a way that left fans excited about the future of Buckeye football.
3. 2008 Florida Gators, 13-1
Just two years after Meyer’s first national championship victory, it was 100 percent Tebow time in Florida. Meyer had led his team to a 13-1 run in 2008, with the lone loss coming against an Ole Miss team that went 9-4 that year and defeated 12th-ranked Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Gators kicked off the ’08 season ranked fifth in the country and ended it at the top, earning Meyer his second national title. This championship win actually wasn’t the most impressive of Meyer’s career, but beating quarterback Sam Bradford and Oklahoma, 24-14, was a major statement. Meyer’s defense was dominant, holding Bradford (who threw for 50 touchdowns that year) to just 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. That season, the Gators also tallied wins over three top-25 teams in the final three weeks: South Carolina (56-6), Florida State (45-15) and the former top-ranked team, Alabama (31-20). They truly played their best football when it mattered most, down the home stretch.
2. 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes, 13-1
Put yourself in Urban Meyer’s shoes for just a minute. Your team is making a push for the first-ever College Football Playoff, and you’re in the process of a final regular season win against the Michigan Wolverines. The win will not only send your team to the Big Ten championship game, but it will also give Ohio State a serious shot to make the four-team playoff field if it can win the conference crown.
That’s when disaster struck. Barrett was wrapping up an absolutely stellar season in which he threw for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns, while rushing for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was smack-dab in the middle of the Heisman race, and then he went down. The redshirt freshman had to be carted off the field, and it was later announced that he had broken his ankle and would be out for the remainder of the season. For many teams, this situation would be too much to overcome. For Meyer? It was just another challenge to meet.
We all know the rest of the story — at least to this point. Meyer had his third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, ready to go, and the Buckeyes blew out Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game. The win was enough to push them into the College Football Playoff as the fourth seed, setting up with a game vs. the top team in the country, Alabama. The Crimson Tide opened the game at around a 10-point favorite, but Meyer and company scored the huge upset over head coach Nick Saban’s squad. Now this team will take on No. 2 Oregon on Jan. 12 for the first ever championship of the College Football Playoff era.
While this season may rank second on Meyer’s coaching resume, a 14-1 season with wins over top-ranked Alabama and second-ranked Oregon in back-to-back games would push it to the top spot of these rankings. There’s no better proof of the Buckeye coach’s ability to overcome adversity than to look at what he’s done this season.
1. 2006 Florida Gators, 13-1
The Gators opened 2006 as the seventh-ranked team, so the expectations were high. But not too high for Meyer, who capped an incredibly impressive run with his first national championship. Florida’s lone loss came to 11th-ranked Auburn, and they finished the year by winning seven straight. The ’06 Gators were the early years of Tebow when he actually wasn’t the starter. Meyer decided to run a twin quarterback system that featured both Chris Leak and Tebow, and it worked out quite well (obviously). The two-headed QB monster led the Gators to wins over five top-25 teams, as well as their biggest rival, Florida State. In addition, this Gator team had the fourth-toughest strength of schedule in the entire country.
Their win in the BCS national championship was a shocking one. Florida took down the Buckeyes in dominant fashion 41-14 despite being seven-point underdogs against a powerful OSU offense led by QB Troy Smith. After giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, the Gators responded in a huge way, holding Ohio State to a grand total of just 82 yards. Smith passed for just 35 yards and tossed an interception in the loss. With the victory, Meyer officially burst onto the national scene.
Follow Jeff Smith on Twitter @JSM8ith.