COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — 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?
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“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?”