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.
Meyer 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.”
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.
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.
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?”