NCF Nation: Urban Meyer

Take solace, Ohio State fans, in knowing that coach Urban Meyer, while stranded at sea, can enjoy the nine-story central atrium of Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, the Solarium pool or perhaps take a shot at the rock-climbing wall.

Meyer is among 2,500 passengers, according to the Columbus Dispatch, who are stuck outside the Port of Tampa as dense fog delays the end of their cruise vacation.

“We are good. No worries,” Meyer wrote in a text to the newspaper.

The Florida fog is part of the same weather pattern that has brought unseasonable cold to much of the United States over the past week.

Meyer participated in the annual Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, a fundraiser for the Urban & Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research. Meyer said in his text to The Dispatch that they raised “upward of $2 million” for the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Meyer’s late father, Bud Meyer, was a bladder cancer survivor. His mother, Gisela Meyer, and Shelley Meyer’s stepmother, Marlene Mather, battled breast cancer.

The vessel is among more than a dozen, according to this report, kept at bay out of safety concerns voiced by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Many former players are aboard the Royal Caribbean ship, which was due back in Tampa on Monday.

Dustin Fox, an ex-Ohio State defensive back who works as a radio host in Cleveland, posted a photo to Instagram of the ship’s circuitous route in the Gulf of Mexico over the past two days.

This has been our path for the last 36 hours. #stuckatsea

A photo posted by Dustin Fox (@dustinfox37) on

 

The fog is forecasted to lift Tuesday night, clearing a path for the ship’s return to port.

Meanwhile, Michigan is opening spring practice. We’ll let the Wolverines craft the proper response for that contrast.
Big Ten football coaches gathered Sunday and Monday at league headquarters for meetings that commissioner Jim Delany repeatedly described as "upbeat."

"There's no doubt we have momentum right now," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "You want to keep the momentum going. That’s what a lot of these discussions were formed around: What can we do to keep this thing going and have success?"

[+] EnlargeElliott/Meyers
AP Photo/Eric GayUrban Meyer and Ohio State made the most of their trip through the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Ohio State's national championship following the inaugural College Football Playoff contributed most to the good vibes. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer chaired the Big Ten coaches' group this year and moderated the meetings. He provided feedback on the playoff experience.

The gist: Ohio State had a blast, and the playoff is just fine staying at four teams.

"Urban's point was we all should realize there should be no more football games," Delany told ESPN.com. "The experience itself was spectacular. He was very positive about Dallas, about New Orleans, but 15 games is enough."

Even before the playoff began there was talk of expanding the field beyond four teams, especially after Big 12 candidates Baylor and TCU both fell short of selection despite being ranked ahead of Ohio State for most of the season. Ohio State's national championship justified the final rankings, but the push to increase the playoff isn't going away anytime soon.

Big Ten coaches made student-athlete welfare a priority in all of the topics they discussed this week, including the length of the season.

"We have a really good thing going right now, but it's part of our society that we always want more," Franklin said. "There’s this tremendous appetite for college football. You’ve got Ohio State who just went through it and the amount of stress and the wear and tear that season put on those guys. To think about you could possibly play another game after that, it’s a lot.

"From the Big Ten perspective, that’s what the discussion was: 'Look, this is enough. It was a great season. It went probably better than anybody expected it to go, but let’s not have this typical American mentality where more is better in everything.'"

Delany stressed to the coaches that while the stakes are high and seemingly getting higher around college football, the game's place in an educational context and its positive elements must be emphasized whenever possible.

"The most important thing is the word college and that this is seen as a balanced experience between education and athletics," Delany said. "The balance has to be there. They can articulate about what the game does for young people. ... These aren’t professional players. They’re not full-grown adults. There’s a general recognition of what we need to do is focus on the college part of athletics to restate it."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The sales pitch about developing players for the next level has long been a staple of the Urban Meyer playbook. It appears to work just as well on coaches.

On both fronts, the Ohio State coach has plenty of evidence that supports his claims he can develop anybody on the football field to get them ready for the next step. And if that wasn't already clear with the players on the turf and in pads, his recent run of molding the guys on the sideline and in caps is making the Buckeyes every bit as appealing for aspiring assistants as Meyer keeps his machine humming along.

[+] EnlargeTony Alford
Jeanine Leech/Icon SportswireTony Alford made the leap from Notre Dame to Ohio State with his long-term future in mind.
Now three seasons into his tenure with the program, Meyer has sent two coordinators off to run their own programs and groomed two assistants for jobs in the NFL, and his track record and rapidly expanding coaching tree seemingly helped make up the mind of yet another highly regarded position coach and recruiter over the weekend. And with Tony Alford already working at a prestigious program like Notre Dame, the fact he would leave that post to take over the running backs for Meyer speaks volumes about just how much momentum the Buckeyes have in virtually every aspect coming off their national title.

“This isn’t a move for today, this is a move where I’ve tried to calculate five years out,” Alford told Irish Illustrated. “There’s forward thinking here, where it could potentially propel me to.”

Maybe Alford still could have reached that level with the Irish, and there were certainly other factors at play with his decision, starting with his familiarity with Meyer dating back to his playing days at Colorado State.

But it's not hard to see the trend emerging with Meyer's staff at Ohio State -- which is following a pattern he established at Florida and to some extent Utah before that -- of making sure his coaches develop professionally for their next jobs, just like turning college players into NFL draft picks.

Tom Herman parlayed his three years under Meyer into the top job at Houston, following in the footsteps of former co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who took over at James Madison last year. After two seasons with Meyer , Mike Vrabel made the jump from a position coach at his alma mater to the Houston Texans. Last week, Drayton made a similar move, working down to the wire to recruit running back Mike Weber and then taking a job with the Chicago Bears.

Alford may have some fences to mend with Weber given the unfortunate timing of Drayton's departure, but thanks to his role as the recruiting coordinator for the Irish, a previous relationship with the touted tailback should work in his favor as he settles into his new job. And given how quickly Ohio State was able to hire Alford, the opportunity to work with Weber and a preseason Heisman contender like Ezekiel Elliott probably was every bit as enticing as working under Meyer.

But regardless of his motivations, Alford's willingness to join the Buckeyes is yet another indication of just how hot their brand is at the moment, and not just with recruits. Meyer has been increasingly fond of highlighting the difference between theory and testimony, and the number of assistants that can vouch for the latter with his approach to grooming coaches continues to grow.

"When you recruit these players you’re telling them it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision," Alford told Irish Illustrated. "But what you’re really talking about is the concept in life that you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow.

"This is a leap of faith, one I feel I need to make for my professional development."

Typically that first leap to Meyer leads to another down the road to a higher level, and coaches appear to have noticed that just as much as players.
The ceaseless debate over conference strength waged here and in other forums ultimately centers on one question: How many teams in League X are capable of winning a national championship in Season Y?

The Big Ten entered the 2014 season with what many believed were two capable candidates: Michigan State and Ohio State. Although Wisconsin and Nebraska also appeared in the preseason Top 25 polls, the Badgers and Huskers were fringe contenders to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff.

It turned out both Michigan State and Ohio State were worthy of contender status. Ohio State won the national title; Michigan State won the Cotton Bowl and recorded its second consecutive top-5 finish.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer and Ezekiel Elliott
Darren Carroll for ESPNBig seasons by Ohio State and Michigan State brought respect to the Big Ten, but the conference needs more than two teams capable of winning the national championship.
No single accomplishment helps conference perception like a national title. After all the mud slung the Big Ten's way for the better part of a decade, Ohio State showed that the laughed-at league was, in fact, capable of having the last laugh. There is a residual from ending the season with the shiny trophy, and the Big Ten is enjoying one right now.

But how long does it last?

Some will say the good vibes ended today as colleague Mark Schlabach produced his latest way-too-early Top 25 for the 2015 season. Ohio State leads off at No. 1, and Michigan State appears at No. 7. Only one other Big Ten team makes the rundown: Wisconsin at No. 17.

Schlabach's Top 25 includes four SEC teams in the top-14 and eight overall. The Pac-12 has three teams in the top nine and five in the top 20. Even the ACC has more Top 25 teams (four) than the Big Ten.

Longtime Big Ten blog readers know how much I love to needle Schlabach for his regional, uh, preferences. The memory of him shivering outside Spartan Stadium on a balmy 42-degree October day a few years back warms my heart. Thin Southern blood, y'all.

But I have no problem with his rankings. The Big Ten remains a top-heavy league looking to build sustained depth. Schlabach's list isn't dramatically different from where the preseason polls had the Big Ten in August.

Ohio State should be No. 1 after its dominant Playoff performance and with possibly an even better team coming back. Michigan State's march into the national elite, along with the return of quarterback Connor Cook, merits a place in the top-8. Wisconsin's run of very good, not quite great, has withstood one shocking coaching change. It can withstand another, especially with a coach (Paul Chryst) who knows the landscape and can fix the program's primary hindrance (the passing game).

After those three teams, though, I can't make a strong case for more Big Ten Top 25 representation.

Minnesota is on the borderline. The defense once again should be solid, possibly more than solid. But the passing game remains a huge unknown, especially with tight end Maxx Williams gone. The Gophers have taken significant steps under Jerry Kill, but of their 16 wins the past two seasons, only five came against teams that finished with winning records. They also have yet to win a bowl game under Kill. There is more to prove.

This is the point where Nebraska fans have to catch their breath after screaming, "What about us?!" There are things to like about the Huskers' roster, as well as Mike Riley's ability to develop quarterbacks and wide receivers. But Nebraska lost its best offensive player (Ameer Abdullah) and best defender (Randy Gregory). Add in a coaching change and this isn't a Top 25 team -- yet.

Neither is Penn State, although if the Lions can figure out how to keep quarterback Christian Hackenberg upright, they could soon enter the national rankings.

So what does this mean for the Big Ten? The league is no longer the scourge of college football. Ohio State and Michigan State are considered elite programs by anyone who matters. But league-wide respect likely remains in short supply.

It goes back to the central question: How many Big Ten teams are capable of winning it all in a given season?

Ohio State should be capable every year under Urban Meyer. Michigan State should be in most years under Mark Dantonio. Wisconsin could rise to that level, but hasn't quite gotten there in recent years. Penn State and Nebraska? History is on their side and both programs are recruiting well, but both must clear some hurdles. Kirk Ferentz's Iowa teams have shown elite-level capability at times, but the program needs to regain momentum.

Few doubt Michigan's capability as a championship contender. The history and resources are there, and Michigan seemingly has the the coach in Jim Harbaugh to facilitate a rise. But the Wolverines haven't been a national player since the 2006 season. Opposing coaches are conflicted about how much talent is in the program right now. Is Michigan fast-track-able? We'll soon find out.

TCU showed last season that a team nowhere near the Playoff radar in August can be in the mix for a spot in early December. Does the Big Ten have such a team in 2015?

Winning a national title was huge for this league, but the macro challenge hasn't changed. The Big Ten needs more Playoff-worthy depth so the league isn't pinning its hopes on one or two teams every year. The SEC pulled off its historic run with four different championship teams, and several others with win-it-all capability.

An Ohio State title defense in 2015 will resonate much more for the Buckeyes than the Big Ten. Ohio State fans might disagree, but the Big Ten's path to national respect isn't simply the I-270 "Outerbelt" that circles Columbus.

The route must include other cities in other states and ultimately lead back to Glendale, Arizona, where college football's next national champion will be crowned.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Typically Zach Smith isn’t much of a sleeper on planes.

“I try, man,” the Ohio State wide receivers coach said. “I just can’t sleep on them.”

Sometimes Smith can’t help it though. And so packed into an aisle seat near the back of a Monday morning Southwest flight to Baltimore a week after helping the Buckeyes win a national championship, Smith’s eyelids were getting mighty heavy even before the wheels were off the ground.

At least on this leg of his journey to Arkansas to visit coveted wide receiver K.J. Hill, Smith was able to find a little rest, which had been in short supply for a coaching staff that had been working overtime as it navigated the first College Football Playoff and then quickly transitioned to the recruiting trail with virtually no time to recover.

The Buckeyes weren’t complaining, particularly since the collection of trophies they had acquired during the postseason was doing a lot of selling of the program for them. But after missing some chances to visit prospects thanks to the Big Ten championship, then spending as much time as possible preparing for Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game and having to hit the road just two days after returning from Dallas, Smith was understandably running on fumes.

“It was a grind, but it was fun,” Smith said. “I mean, No. 1 it was different because after we won the national championship, it’s really easy to wake up, go to work, walk in a high school because everybody is telling you how great you are. It wasn’t hard to get motivated to do your job -- not that it ever is, but especially now.

“But it was a grind. Most of the time after a bowl game, you get at least two or three days off. We came back and landed on Tuesday, staff meeting on Wednesday to organize it and Thursday we were hitting the road.”

Ohio State once again cleaned up there, finishing with the No. 6 class in the country and adding some pieces that could be useful in defending the title next fall. And all that extra time the Buckeyes were spending to win a crown also opened a few doors once they did hit the recruiting trail, perhaps most notably the one Smith was on the way to visit after Hill had largely been out of the picture earlier in the process thanks to his commitment to Arkansas.

That trip turned out to be well worth it for the Buckeyes, and not just because Smith was able to recharge his batteries for about an hour on the way.

“These guys were toast,” coach Urban Meyer said. “But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student-athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level against 30-ACT kids like our players are.

“They missed two days of class. ... My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they all deserve to be taken care. I think we’ve done a good job monitoring [the fatigue].”

The Buckeyes shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while now, though spring practice is creeping around the corner next month and Meyer has wasted no time stressing a zero-complacency policy coming off the championship.

That was obviously in place already when the coaches went back out on the road trying to close their latest class. For the most part, the foundation for 2015 had already been established prior to the postseason, but that championship still provided a lift late with guys like Hill, running back Mike Weber and offensive lineman Isaiah Prince.

But where it might really offer a jolt is with the next batch of targets. And just in case Smith happens to doze off for a minute or two in the coming weeks, there’s a nice safety net that will help pitch the program even when he can’t.

“I think it definitely helped this year, but right now we have a seven-month marketing campaign,” Smith said. “Basically we don’t have to do anything. That’s all they’re playing, talking about and that’s all they’re seeing. The class of ’16 has the next seven months to hear about Ohio State and how we’re the best team in the country.

“For 2015, it did help kind of spark us at the end and help us close some kids, I’m sure it did. But not like it should next year.”

Maybe a dynasty, then, is sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The reigning national champions showed no signs of slowing down on national signing day, reeling in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country. ESPN.com caught up with coach Urban Meyer to look back at the end of last season, success on the trail and what is next for Ohio State.

Austin Ward: One thing that you have talked a lot about recently is theory vs. testimony. How does that apply to recruiting efforts now compared to when you arrived at Ohio State?

Urban Meyer: It means, my daughters went through recruiting, both of them were volleyball players, one went to Georgia Tech and one went to Florida Gulf Coast, and I remember as a parent sitting there listening. Some of it is a leap of faith. Who is this new staff? What are they trying to do? But any time there is a for-sure, and right now with the way we do our business at Ohio State with academics, with the way our weight room is, the Real-Life Wednesdays and then the success on the field, if you’re a guy that wants to be playing for a group of assistant coaches and some teammates who are really good players and know how to win and do things right, this is a pretty good system right now.

After the title game, you mentioned that championships have a way of opening up doors. Did that apply to finishing this class or more for 2016?

Meyer: I think there’s no doubt K.J. Hill, Isaiah Prince, [Matthew] Burrell -- I think we might have got him anyway -- but there’s no question it opened the doors. And I’m seeing it a lot for the ‘16s, too. It’s a 30-day infomercial on Ohio State and the program, the college football playoff was.

I saw [wide receivers coach] Zach Smith about a week after the national championship and he could barely keep his eyes open. How difficult was the time crunch for you all after such a long season?

Meyer: These guys are toast. But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level class against 30-ACT kids like our players are. They miss two days of class -- I can imagine the professor marking them absent for two days when they’re out there winning the national title for Ohio State. My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they deserve to be taken care of -- and I think we’ve done a good job monitoring our staff, but more importantly our players.

How do you recruit two more quarterbacks to come in and compete on such a talented depth chart?

Meyer: There’s a little bit more involved, but everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every school in the country. Don’t penalize us because our guys played great. Same with Kenny Guiton, he played good. The guys at Florida, the guys at Utah, the guys at Bowling Green, it’s because I like the way we teach them, I like the personnel around them, I think it’s a quarterback-friendly offense that we try to do the things that they do well. So, don’t penalize us. If there’s a better place, and I actually did that with some players, I said let’s look at their rosters. Everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every one of them. And if you don’t, well then you’re probably not very good. That’s the approach that we took.

Did you feel a different intensity with Jim Harbaugh coming into the rivalry and recruiting now?

Meyer: We felt it. They contacted all of our players, they really went after Mike Weber and Josh Alabi and Joe Burrow. But you expect that. I remember when I first got here people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that, and I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The competition was fierce, went down to the wire and ultimately kept Ohio State coaches up for most of Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes also know their work might only be beginning with a new regime at Michigan, and it’s exactly what they’d expect from the most intense rivalry in college football.

The battles between certainly never lacked for intensity under the previous Wolverines coaching staff, though it’s pretty clear who has had the upper hand since Urban Meyer arrived and took his program in a much different direction than Brady Hoke did his before he was fired. Ohio State was able to maintain its edge in the first true head-to-head battle with Jim Harbaugh leading up to national signing day, but if the tug of war over running back Mike Weber is any indication, The Game is about to return to being a 12-month war.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber
Tom Hauck for Student SportsGetting running back Mike Weber's signature was the first major recruiting battle between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Ohio State was able to sign the top player in Michigan on Wednesday, but not without some anxious moments.
“No doubt,” Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “I mean, Harbaugh’s presence was felt up north, no doubt about it. He went in there guns a-blazing trying to get the best player in his state, which he should.”

This time the recruiting barrage from Harbaugh and his staff came up short, but not without making the Buckeyes sweat it out into the late-night hours leading up to Weber’s decision Wednesday.

A former Michigan commitment, the ESPN 300 prospect from Detroit's Cass Technical High School had some doubts creep into his mind late in the process for a variety of reasons, keeping Meyer and Drayton busy on the phone with Weber to help fight off the pressure that had been building on the other side of the border to keep him at home, where he would have provided a significant boost to Harbaugh’s first class.

It wasn’t the only time the Buckeyes had been forced to deal with Michigan’s new presence on the recruiting trail, with Meyer also pointing to quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive tackle Joshua Alabi -- Weber's high school teammate -- as other Ohio State commitments whom the Wolverines made a push to flip during the last month. And it definitely won’t be the last time these storied programs tangle off the field in the coming years.

“We felt it,” Meyer said. “They contacted all of our players ... but you expect that. I remember when I first got here, people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that.

“I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.”

Like anything else that can be boiled down to a winner and loser in the rivalry, Meyer also didn’t mind making people aware that “absolutely you keep score” on those recruiting victories over the Wolverines. But he also didn’t hide from the fact that Harbaugh certainly made it a challenge coming down the stretch.

For his part, Harbaugh wasn’t pressed about recruiting against his once and future rival, and he didn’t feel any need to address the Buckeyes on his own. Perhaps the nature of some of the individual battles will change moving forward, with Michigan potentially not needing to chase committed prospects as aggressively as it did with such a short window following the coaching transition.

But Harbaugh is officially back in the game now, and with a full recruiting cycle to work with, the two coaching staffs figure to see each other much more often than just on the opposite sideline at the end of November.

“You make a call and ask someone if they are interested in talking about Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly if someone says no, it is no. But if someone says yes, then I want to show them Michigan.

“We were trying to build a recruiting base and that is kind of the way the pickle squirted this year.”

Don’t mistake that for an apology from Harbaugh, and Meyer made it clear it wasn’t necessary anyway for a coach just doing his job.

Both guys understand the business and The Game, and one key recruitment already indicates the stakes are only going to get higher.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A depth chart already loaded with three trophy-winning quarterbacks wasn’t enough for Urban Meyer.

A healthy competition apparently wasn’t going to scare away Torrance Gibson or Joe Burrow, either.

So with Ohio State already heading toward a potentially historic derby for its starting job, the reigning national champions added two more names to their depth chart Wednesday as they begin preparation for a title defense. And landing the second-ranked athlete in the country and the No. 9 dual-threat quarterback served not only to highlight another top-10 class, but it also added to the embarrassment of riches Meyer has to lead his high-powered offense.

“Everybody has three or four quarterbacks -- every school in the country,” Meyer said. “I just told [the recruits], don’t penalize us because our guys played great.

“If there’s a better place, fine. But I actually did this with some players. I said, 'Let’s look at their rosters.' Everybody has three or four quarterbacks -- every one of them. And if you don’t, well, then you’re probably not very good.”

The difference between Ohio State’s trio and every other school in the nation is the documented evidence of just how good those guys are, and a bit of intimidation or trepidation by Burrow or Gibson might have been understandable.

There’s a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year on the roster with Braxton Miller still expected to return after recovering from two shoulder surgeries that kept him out last season. There’s the defending Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and the league’s all-time single-season record holder for touchdowns in J.T. Barrett, who is recovering after breaking his ankle in November. And on top of that, Cardale Jones elected to bypass the NFL draft after his stunning three-game run through the postseason on the way to a national championship that left no doubt about how much talent the Buckeyes have in reserve.

Only Miller is assured of being gone after next season, and as a graduate student with a year of eligibility remaining, he could still conceivably transfer before then. However, new quarterbacks coach Tim Beck joined the chorus of coaches publicly announcing that he expects the multipurpose QB back in the fall. Jones also might be ready to make the leap to the NFL after next season if he does hold on to the starting job and continues to thrive, which would quickly trim what currently looks like an all-time logjam and could reward Burrow and Gibson for either their patience or willingness to embrace competition -- or a combination of both.

Regardless of what ultimately tipped the scales, the pitch from Meyer worked. And in the process of landing a pair of touted passers for his growing collection, the Buckeyes appear as loaded on paper for the next few seasons as the on-field work already indicates they will be in 2015.

“I love Joey Burrow,” Meyer said. “He was a guy, I don’t want to say we rejected him ... but [former offensive coordinator] Tom Herman went down there, and I don’t know if he was highly rated or not, but I just remember he sent me a video where he was screaming into the phone as he was watching this kid throw. He goes, ‘I found your next Alex Smith.’ He’s a competitor; he wins at football, he wins at basketball and he’s a coach’s son, so we’re real impressed with him.

“And Torrance, I didn’t know him very well. But he came in and I just asked Torrance, please don’t penalize us because our guys played real well. ... Cardale might leave after next year -- he almost left after this year, I guess -- and Braxton is out, so then you’re down to one, maybe two. Don’t hold that against us; come and compete for the spot. Don’t penalize the Ohio State Buckeyes because all four played really well.”

Instead, those already loaded Buckeyes are now bursting at the seams at the most important position on the field.

If there’s such a thing as too many quarterbacks on the roster, Meyer might soon find out. But the group he had didn’t discourage him from adding two more, and perhaps more important, it also didn’t deter Burrow or Gibson.

“No, no,” Meyer said when asked if had ever had this many talented options to weigh. “We’ll discuss that down the road, I guess.”

With two more names to talk about, that conversation only appears to be getting more interesting -- and it doesn’t figure to disappear any time soon.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was like the rest of the college football world. He tuned in with interest to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship last Monday night.

Spurrier said he was rooting for Oregon, but not necessarily because he was against Urban Meyer or Ohio State.

Spurrier
Spurrier
"Oregon had never won (a national championship) and Marcus Mariota is a first-class young man," Spurrier explained. "Ohio State had already won a bunch of them, and Urban had already won a bunch of them. I was fine with Urban winning another one. But since Oregon had never won it, I was sort of for them.

"I told somebody, though, that Ohio State would probably win it. I knew Urban would have those guys so ready to play. In the big games, he doesn't lose many of them."

Indeed, Meyer is now 8-3 in national championship games, conference championship games and/or BCS bowl games.

"He only lost that one SEC championship game to (Nick) Saban, so that's five out of six SEC or national championship games that he's won," Spurrier said. "A lot of us would like to have that record."

Of course, with the Head Ball Coach, there's usually a punch line of sorts in there somewhere.

"I know one thing," Spurrier continued. "South Carolina beat Urban for the (SEC) Eastern Division championship in 2010. He wasn't himself, though, in 2010. That's after he quit and came back and they'd told him to try and relax and let his assistants do most of the coaching.

"He wasn't really himself then. But he's back to being himself, and I suspect he'll win a few more."

Torrance Gibson has stuck to his guns about his pledge to Ohio State for months now, but a trip this weekend to Auburn has him thinking long and hard about his future. And his future will be the focus of one of the biggest recruiting battles in the country leading up to signing day.

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CLEVELAND -- No promises were made to Cardale Jones, and nothing is ever guaranteed at the most important position on the field.

But there is at least one certainty for now at Ohio State in the early stages of what is shaping up to be a quarterback derby with record-setting intrigue. After making his intention to return to the Buckeyes official during a news conference in Cleveland, Jones will come back to campus at the top of the depth chart and have the first crack at leading a defense of the national title he helped claim on Monday.

Eventually J.T. Barrett will have a healthy ankle and won’t have his mobility limited, as it will be in spring practice. If Braxton Miller decides to stick around and not use his graduate transfer, at some point in the summer he will again be able to throw a football after two surgeries on his shoulder.

But neither of them are in any kind of position to challenge Jones over the next few months. And already with momentum on his side and a chance to further establish himself by leading the Buckeyes during offseason workouts and spring camp, the rising junior will be the favorite to earn the job for the first time in his career with the program.

“[Coach Urban Meyer] didn’t make me any promises,” Jones said Thursday at Ginn Academy. “He told me what I had to do and what I have to improve on and that was about it.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Cardale Jones
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer will see a lot more of Cardale Jones this spring, and that makes him the likely early leader in Ohio State's historic quarterback derby.
“He just gave me the pros and cons, basically how my career has gone so far. You know, just let me know the type of things that the NFL is looking for, the things that I have right now and the things that I can go back to school to work on.”

Meyer, Jones and his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., started crafting a list of those areas of improvement during a meeting Thursday morning when the decision was finalized. Fine-tuning mechanics, improving Jones' ability to recognize coverages and becoming a better leader in the huddle was at the top of the list.

Of course, all of those would figure to take a step forward with more experience, and Jones was already recognizing strides in those areas after just three games.While in some ways he’s working backward after already accomplishing more in a month than the vast majority of quarterbacks do in their entire careers, there's a school of thought that his stock would never be higher than it is now. But Jones could really make that look silly with another year to work on his craft.

And even better for him, there’s probably not going to be any chance of complacency with Barrett and potentially Miller around, vying for playing time.

“I mean, you can always improve on any and everything,” Jones said. “Just to become a better vocal leader for my teammates, work on my mechanics and definitely gain more experience.

“It’s more about the intangibles, working on things like my mechanics, tightening things up there. I think this offseason will help with that.”

Jones will enter it as the top choice for the Buckeyes, even if for the moment it’s by default.

Barrett might not be able to run without any restrictions during the practices in March, but he should be ready in plenty of time for training camp and proved what he’s capable of by setting the Big Ten record for touchdowns before his injury.

Miller might elect to leave or he might even be tempted to change positions for the Buckeyes. But if he throws his name in the hat, his two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Awards speak for themselves.

But Jones now has evidence to support his case as well. He’s got championship rings for each of his three starts and physical tools that had NFL teams thinking about how high he's be selected in the draft. He’s also going to have a head start on his competition on the practice field.

“I’ll have to deal with that when the time comes,” Jones said. “Hopefully I am the starter, but I mean, if I’m not, I’ll have to wait for my opportunity to present itself again.”

There’s one thing that’s clear, though: There shouldn’t be any reason to wait when the Buckeyes get back on the practice field.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Even in the hours before Monday evening's title game, coaches were fairly satisfied with how the initial College Football Playoff had worked out.

And, no, Baylor coach Art Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson were not among those I asked.

Several coaches tried to project themselves in the place of Urban Meyer, even before the Buckeyes won later that night.

"[Ohio State] would not have sniffed it [in the BCS era]," one coach told me at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention. "They wouldn't have had a chance. To say we're going to settle it on the field now, this first year has proved that. Teams that wouldn't have had a chance were given one."

Most project that Alabama, a one-loss SEC champ, and FSU, the undefeated reigning champ, would have been the teams to play for the crystal football under the previous system. So, yeah, Oregon and Ohio State -- the teams that wound up playing for the championship -- would have been left playing for the Rose Bowl trophy.

"There's no way FSU would have been left out," one coach said.

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CLEVELAND -- Cardale Jones just won't stop pulling upsets.

With everybody once again expecting one thing from the Ohio State quarterback, somehow he found a way to manage another stunner and deliver for the underdog on Thursday afternoon at the Ginn Academy.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had previously suggested Jones' professional stock might never be higher. A news conference in his hometown instead of on campus was scheduled, and a boisterous crowd of students and teachers, family and friends expected Jones to cash in on his rapid rise from third-stringer to national-title winner. Even when he strolled out from some double doors in the corner of the gymnasium with Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” blaring, the signs seemed to be pointing to the redshirt sophomore bolting for the NFL.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Mark DuncanCardale Jones pulled another surprise Thursday, announcing his intention to return to Ohio State next season.
But just like Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon found out, Jones has a few tricks up his sleeve. And for at least another season, the Buckeyes will be the ones who get to put them to use.

“My decision was very simple,” Jones said. “After talking it over with my family, my friends, my coaching staff, I’m going to return next year for school.

“It’s everybody’s dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate sport to make it to the next level, but at my point in my career, I feel like it’s best for me to go back to school. ... I don’t know why you guys made this such a big deal. This was very simple for me. The NFL, after three games, it was really out of the question for me.”

Jones did kick around his options over the past three days since the Buckeyes knocked off the Ducks in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, but by Thursday morning, when he met with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his high school coach, Ted Ginn, he already had his mind made up. As he helped keep the Buckeyes stocked with proven options to lead the attack next season, Jones also struck one more blow against another long-standing favorite, burying the tired jokes about his Twitter gaffe about “playing school” by making the choice to return to it and finish his degree.

He hardly could have been blamed if he decided to strike when the iron was hot, cashing in on the unlikely string of events that gave him an opportunity to lead the Buckeyes in the postseason after both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett suffered season-ending injuries. Jones made the most of that unexpected chance, and when he proved that he had been working on more than just his incredible physical tools, NFL scouts and general managers became increasingly more interested in him as a prospect.

But aside from the lack of a degree, his incomplete on-field résumé played a factor in Jones' decision-making process. The incredibly small sample size gives him ample room to grow. And while there is no guarantee that Jones will be able to hold on to the starting job when next season starts, Barrett's recovery and questions surrounding Braxton Miller make Jones Ohio State's No. 1 quarterback in spring ball.

“[Meyer] always preaches to us that education is what is most important, and he knows and we know that with all three of us back next year, it’s going to bring out the best in us,” Jones said. “Hopefully I am the starter, but I mean, if I’m not I’ll have to wait for my opportunity to present itself again.

“He didn’t make me any promises. He told me what I had to do and what I have to improve on and that was about it. ... I think he was a little shocked, but he understood."

The shock factor should be gone by now. Jones has proved that he’s full of pleasant surprises for the Buckeyes and upsets for just about everybody else.

Overreacting in the Big Ten

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
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We live in an instant reaction society, in which every development is immediately dissected and analyzed for all it's worth. Often, in this hyperbolic chamber, our first reactions turn out to be overreactions.

That's especially true in football, where a small number of games combines with outsized interest to make everything seem a little more monumental than it probably is. Here are some of the top overreactions from the Big Ten in the 2014 season:

Aug. 19: Ohio State is doomed without Braxton Miller!

What happened: Two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Miller was ruled out for the season due to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

Overreaction: People began heaping dirt on the Buckeyes' season. Overnight, Ohio State went from league favorite to giant question mark, especially as it turned to a virtually unknown redshirt freshman quarterback with no experience. The entire Big Ten would suffer as a result too.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Khris Hale/Icon SportswireAs with Braxton Miller before him, Ohio State's demise was predicted following an injury to J.T. Barrett.
Reality: J.T. Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and won the league's Big Ten quarterback of the year award while breaking a pile of school records. The Buckeyes did not lose a Big Ten game and merely won the national title.

Sept. 6: The Big Ten's playoff hopes are dead!

What happened: Michigan State lost by 19 points at Oregon. Ohio State lost at home by two touchdowns to Virginia Tech. Michigan got embarrassed at Notre Dame.

Overreaction: The Week 2 primetime meltdown ended the playoff possibilities for the Big Ten. The league wouldn't have enough opportunities to change public perception, and even with 10 games left in the regular season, the chance of a Big Ten team in the four-team field was slim.

Reality: The negativity was understandable, given the blowout nature of the losses and the conference's recent history in big games. Heck, many of us here in this blog thought the Big Ten was toast, save for lone optimist Austin Ward. But the losses came early enough in the season for the league to bounce back, and things happened elsewhere to help out the Big Ten's cause. Except for Michigan. That was a lost cause.

Nov. 8: Michigan State's time is over!

What happened: Ohio State ran all over the Spartans 49-37 in a showdown in East Lansing and handed Michigan State its second double-digit loss of the year.

Overreaction: The Spartans' Rose Bowl championship and Big Ten title from the season before were a one-year wonder. The downturn was beginning for Mark Dantonio's program.

Reality: Those two losses don't look so bad in retrospect, as they came to the two teams that played for the national title. The Spartans didn't lose to anyone else and beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl to cement a top-5 finish in back-to-back years for the first time since the mid-1960s. Only a handful of teams have had as much success the past five years as Michigan State, which is in great shape to maintain its newfound elite status.

Nov. 29: Ohio State is doomed without J.T. Barrett!

What happened: Barrett fractured his ankle in the season finale against Michigan, which left him unavailable for the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin or any postseason game.

Overreaction: If the Miller injury didn't kill Ohio State's chances, then surely this one did. There was no way the Buckeyes could turn to third-string quarterback Cardale Jones and get him ready in one week for Wisconsin's fearsome defense. The Buckeyes were made an underdog in the Big Ten championship game.

Reality: Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 stomping of the Badgers. He'd go on to defeat Alabama and Oregon in his next two starts.

By now, you'd think we'd know not to doubt Meyer's ability to develop quarterbacks. And given those silly jumps to conclusions, we'll all have learned our lessons about overreacting to news in 2015, right?

Highly doubtful. Here are a a few likely overreactions you'll see this season:

Ohio State's quarterback logjam will be a distraction! Sure, if everybody stays in place, the Buckeyes will have a stuffed stable of quarterbacks, with Miller, Barrett and Jones. But remember that two of them are currently injured, they all love the school, and nothing is guaranteed. Plus, Meyer and his staff are smart enough to figure it out.

Jim Harbaugh's arrival means the return of the Big 2 with Michigan and Ohio State! Yeah, remember when Brady Hoke's early success portended an era in which Michigan and Ohio State would leave the rest of the league behind? Harbaugh will be great, but he's going to need some time to get the Wolverines fixed. Although the Buckeyes are zooming onward and upward, Michigan State and Wisconsin are established, excellent programs, and others such as Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota aren't far behind. Speaking of the Gophers ...

Minnesota was a fluke! Jerry Kill's team didn't get much credit at all for its eight-win season in 2013 and probably won't be valued highly after an even more impressive eight-win team in 2014. People who just look at stats and returning starters might not be impressed by the Gophers and their sometimes low-wattage offense. But this team is legit and only going to get better under Kill and his staff.
The first change came last week as Iowa released a postseason depth chart featuring a new starter at quarterback. Then came Wednesday's news conference with coach Kirk Ferentz, another deviation from the script.

As my friend and longtime Iowa beat writer Marc Morehouse writes, "The regular routine for the last 16 years has been bowl game, radio silence through January and then a news conference on signing day."

Would Wednesday usher in a new chapter for Iowa football? There were even rumors that Ferentz would resign or finally head to the NFL, which the coach quickly dismissed, saying, "This is where I like coaching. This is what I like doing."

[+] EnlargeC.J. Beathard
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY SportsCoach Kirk Ferentz said that C.J. Beathard will be Iowa's No. 1 quarterback heading into spring practice.
(C'mon, people. Why would Ferentz ever walk away from this contract?)

Still, there was hope among many that change would come for a seemingly stale program coming off of a very disappointing 7-6 season. After a breakthrough 2009 season culminating with an Orange Bowl win and Ricky Stanzi's unforgettable pearl of patriotism -- "If you don't love it, leave it" -- there hasn't been much to love about the Hawkeyes, who since are 34-30 overall (19-21 in the Big Ten).

After listening to Ferentz, it's hard to pinpoint what changes will be made and if any will dramatically affect the program. It's hard to glean much out of Wednesday's gathering. Midway through the news conference, Ferentz was asked why he had called it.

"It's just my sense is we needed to talk," he said, "so it's as simple as that."

Ferentz was candid about several topics, including his own need to spend more time on football matters. His external obligations increased in recent years as Iowa had to raise funds for its new football operations facility, a long overdue upgrade that is now complete.

"I've got to ... spend more time in the building with our people and less time on the outside," Ferentz said. "We built the building, that is good news. Not that I disliked fundraising, but I need to spend more time in here and watch more film."

There also could be tweaks to Iowa's offensive structure. Don't get too excited, Hawkeye fans -- "We're probably not going to be a spread team or a run 'n shoot team," Ferentz said -- but Ferentz talked about studying the Green Bay Packers' scheme. So that's something. Maybe.

Iowa also will see a new No. 1 quarterback when it begins spring practice, as C.J. Beathard leapfrogged Jake Rudock on the two-deep. Ferentz was careful not to lay the blame for Iowa's embarrassing bowl performance on Rudock, but competition at quarterback ramped up after the regular season.

Beathard has inched ahead.

"It's very, very close between the two of them," Ferentz said. "What we believe gives us the best chance to move forward right now is to give C.J. a chance to be the starting quarterback."

So Iowa might have a new quarterback and a more dynamic offense. Or it might not. The season opener Sept. 5 is a long way off.

"There are some things that are going to look different," Ferentz said. "I don't know how dramatic they'll be."

The types of changes fans often want after a season like Iowa's likely aren't coming. Ferentz isn't firing any assistants, although some could leave for other positions. The offense won't be overhauled. Ferentz said the Hawkeyes "just don't have the access to some of the personnel that some of those folks do that are running the points up."

There are plenty of non-traditional powers in challenging recruiting locations that successfully run fast-paced, spread offenses, but OK.

"Before we change anything, we want to make sure we're making the right changes," Ferentz said. "There is no sense to change things just to change things."

Ferentz is right, but certain things need to shift to get this program back on the upswing. Those decisions ultimately rest with the head coach, who delivered some cringe-worthy lines Wednesday.

  • "I'm coaching the way I did in 1999."
  • "We'll evaluate it our own way. It's different than other people."
  • "I'm basically here just to restate what I said 16 years ago and have said on and off between December of 1998 until now."

Ferentz had more late-90s references Wednesday than a VH1 flashback show. Iowa fans understand how the program has evolved since Ferentz took over. They appreciate what he's done. But they want and deserve better results from one of the highest-paid coaches in college football.

The most successful programs always have tension within. You think Urban Meyer will sit back now that Ohio State won a national championship? He'll push even harder.

Iowa needs some degree of tension from a coach whose cushy contract, once viewed as a security blanket for the program against NFL suitors, now seems more like a straitjacket.

"Maybe it's a good thing we've won seven games and we're considering this a low period," Ferentz said.

It's a very good thing, and an important realization for Ferentz. How much actually changes with the program this year is up to him.

One item had better change. The wins total.

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