NEW ORLEANS — Upon the biggest win in his three-season tenure at Ohio State, Urban Meyer couldn’t help but smile while sitting at a postgame press conference after toppling Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as part of the first-ever College Football Playoff.
With a special mojo restored, Meyer and the Buckeyes are heading to the national championship against Oregon in Dallas.
And when learning the score of the Rose Bowl, where the Ducks clobbered No. 3 Florida State by 39 points in Pasadena, Meyer nearly leapt out of his seat to go watch film.
“I gotta go,” he said, half-jokingly. “We gotta go get ready for that one.”
This is the sort of stuff that’s woven into Meyer’s DNA, like having brown hair or blue eyes.
Known as a master motivator, the head coach had Ohio State ready to run titanium walls from start to finish in a 42-35 conquering of the Crimson Tide, winners of three of the last five national titles.
Junior linebacker Joshua Perry said:
“We heard a lot about SEC speed, you guys can’t compete, you guys don’t have this guy, you don’t have that guy. You guys lost this, you lost that. But to be able to get up here and take the guys that we have and the guys that we bust our balls for, it means a lot for us.”
On a day that saw the Big Ten notch critical wins by the Buckeyes, Wisconsin and Michigan State and the SEC teams like Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU all lose, the college football landscape is changing.
“Maybe the Big Ten's not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damned good. And it's certainly getting better,” Meyer said.
In particular, watching the Badgers beat the Tigers and Michigan State rally past Baylor gave them an extra oomph of confidence heading into Thursday night.
Sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said:
“Coach Meyer actually got up and was talking about that. We gained a lot of confidence to know that the Big Ten is actually able to compete with the SEC because a lot of people thought, if they can hang with them, then why can’t we? That’s what I couldn’t seem to figure out. Nobody in the world actually paid attention to that.”
“There's a perception out here. I'll tell you when I think the tide turned a little bit when Wisconsin beat Auburn. Everybody on our team knew that. I made sure they knew that. When Michigan State came back and beat an excellent Baylor team … You know, all of a sudden you get down against a team like that, that's No. 1 in recruiting every year for the past six, seven years, our guys know that. You see (Alabama) on film. Great team. But we're pretty good, too. And we go in East Lansing and beat a team that beat Baylor. To play the way we did against Wisconsin, a team that just beat Auburn … So, there's no doubt that when we saw Wisconsin beat Auburn, that was a major, major moment for us getting ready for this game.”
Added Meyer, who was remarkably candid about the manner after downplaying it when asked previously:
“We're a bunch of good coaches and players that worked their tails off and investing in a lot of resources into these traditionally great programs. So at some point, you're going to get good results and very fired up for our conference right now, because at some point it gets exhausting when you keep hearing and hearing and then you start believing.”
For Ohio State, the whole season has been a series of hearing and hearing and then believing.
From losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller 12 days before the season opener, to an ugly loss to Virginia Tech at home, to Noah Spence’s indefinite suspension, to double-overtime at Penn State, to Dontre Wilson’s broken foot, to losing quarterback J.T. Barrett, Miller’s replacement who set a school record with 45 total touchdowns, the Buckeyes have been on a rollercoaster ride from hell that’s taken them to college football heaven.
“I mean, just to think about, we actually went through the season that we went through and faced all that adversity that we went through and to know that we can actually go play for it all. It’s like a dream come true, because every kid that comes to college wants to play for a national championship.”
And now, Ohio State will have a chance to finish “The Chase,” a journey they’ve trekked on for years since Meyer took over the program almost exactly three years ago.
“Everybody called it a shock to the world, I’m not shocked at all. I really believed in my heart that we were gonna get it done. Which is why I left my Big Ten Championship hat at the house just because I knew I was going to get this new hat.”
That’s bold. But in a season where the Buckeyes have defied the odds, it works.