There’s a very realistic chance that Urban Meyer has coached his last game in the B1G.
Let that sink in.
Ok, now that you’ve come to grips with the reality that the Ohio State coach’s administrative leave could be for good, let’s talk about the rest of the B1G. Specifically, how does it impact the conference?
That’s obviously not an easy question to answer until we know how Meyer’s absence would impact Ohio State. Let’s start there.
If you’re an Ohio State fan who’s fearing a 2011 repeat, I’d say that doesn’t seem likely. Losing Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor in the summer was a hurdle that proved to be too much to overcome. At least it was for 37-year-old interim coach Luke Fickell. With all due respect to Fickell, who was put in an extremely tough spot, Ohio State’s 2018 coaching staff is better prepared to handle this type of adversity.
Interim coach Ryan Day is surrounded by a pair of coordinators in Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson who obviously have head coaching backgrounds at B1G schools (no, Rutgers wasn’t in the B1G when Schiano was there). That, plus an extremely talented roster, should still keep Ohio State in the hunt.
If you’re under the impression that a team that loses an elite coach in the summer can’t compete for a national title, perhaps you missed what Oklahoma did last year. Ohio State fans should know that better than anyone. Sure, it helped to have the Heisman Trophy winner in Baker Mayfield. Maybe the Buckeyes have a Heisman Trophy winner in J.K. Dobbins. Who knows?
Having said that, to assume Ohio State will be 2017 Oklahoma isn’t necessarily fair. After all Oklahoma scored 48 points in a Playoff game last year. The Buckeyes haven’t scored a Playoff point since they won it all in 2014. To think that losing Meyer would suddenly make them better seems a bit optimistic.
So instead of getting overly optimistic, let’s get realistic for a Meyer-less program.
Yes, I believe Meyer’s absence would give Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin a better chance to dethrone the defending conference champs this year. That’s obvious.
To me, though, Michigan and Wisconsin are the teams that would benefit the most from an absent Meyer in 2018. Why? Those are the programs who have been held down by the Meyer reign. Michigan State and Penn State already showed that they can beat Meyer. They both won B1G titles with Meyer in Columbus (and beat his team to get there). Their benefit could be more significant beyond 2018.
Michigan and Wisconsin? That’s a different story. I’m of the belief that both of those programs currently have their best teams since their respective coaches arrived in 2015. What better time to take advantage of that than after a potential Meyer departure from Columbus?
Jim Harbaugh and Meyer were expected to have another Ten Year War. It obviously hasn’t been a war so far. Getting outscored 103-60 in three Harbaugh era losses doesn’t suggest Michigan has been part of a “war.”
The Wolverines offense being overmatched by the Buckeye defense was the difference. Honestly, I’m not sure how much Meyer’s absence as an offensive-minded coach would impact that specific disparity. Shea Patterson’s presence might have a bigger say in whether Michigan can turn that around.
No, that’s not my way of saying Patterson is more valuable to Michigan than Meyer is to OSU. Relax.
For a Michigan team that lost six straight matchups to Ohio State, this could be like a situation we see in baseball. Sometimes when a dominant starting pitcher is pulled in the eighth inning, just seeing someone new on the mound can spark the opposing hitters. Could Meyer’s absence have that impact on Michigan? Definitely.
Maybe the same could happen for a Wisconsin team that’s been knocking on the door of getting that breakthrough win against Meyer’s Buckeyes. Meyer is 5-0 against Wisconsin, but the last 2 years, the Badgers lost 30-23 in overtime and 27-21 in the 2017 B1G Championship. The Badgers weren’t overwhelmed by anything OSU threw at them in either of those one-possession games.
I already outlined months ago why I had more confidence in Wisconsin than Ohio State in 2018. That’s especially true if Meyer is gone. The Buckeyes don’t have to take a very big step back for that to happen. With the Badgers returning their entire offensive line, they should finally have the advantage in the trenches. Perhaps that’s the difference in a B1G title, with or without Meyer.
This, of course, is only in the event that they meet in another B1G Championship. A few weeks ago, that was nearly the consensus opinion in the Cleveland.com media poll, which had Wisconsin as the unanimous B1G West pick with Ohio State getting 23.5 of a possible 28 first-place votes.
Suddenly, though, it doesn’t seem like such a given that Ohio State will still be the team to beat in the East. We’re talking about a division that some believe to be the best in America. Regardless of if that’s true, nobody can debate that the margin for error is small with Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State right there.
If Meyer’s team has been a slight notch above those programs, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which that gap isn’t narrowed.
The guy is 47-3 vs. the B1G. That’s a 94 percent success rate. Bo Schembechler, who’s in the conversation for the greatest coach in B1G history, won 84 percent of his B1G games. Jim Tressel won 83 percent of them, and Woody Hayes had a 78 percent clip. Shoot, even Joe Paterno only won 64 percent of his B1G matchups.
Meyer is a living legend. His success in the conference is unprecedented. His presence in the B1G has been massive, and his absence would be equally massive. The balance of B1G power could be shifting in a hurry, dependent on Meyer’s fate.
It’s safe to say that plenty of B1G teams will be interested in any developments from Columbus in the coming weeks.