Meyer: Right Man, Right Job, Right Time

To paraphrase the old saying, Ohio State fell into a sewer and came out with a pocketful of fish.

How else would you describe the unthinkable fall from grace by Jim Tressel and subsequent smoldering fallout followed six months later by the hiring of a younger, potentially more successful version of the sweater-vested one himself?

No wonder why everyone else hates the Ohio State football program.

Urban Frank Meyer III has amassed a 10-year résumé that is the envy of his profession – two national championships, five conference titles, the second-best winning percentage among active coaches and a 7-1 bowl record.

And now he has his dream job. How fortunate can one guy and one fan base get?

After several weeks of being the subject of the worst-kept secret in Columbus, Meyer was officially introduced Monday as the 24th head coach of the Buckeyes. He succeeds Luke Fickell, who will thankfully remain on Meyer’s staff with a to-be-determined title of prestige.

Does it really get any better for Buckeye Nation, which has had to choke down every snide and spiteful epithet imaginable since Tressel was forced into early retirement due to the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal?

Not only is Meyer the absolute level-best coaching option available, his career as a head coach has been nothing short of remarkable. He engineered a remarkably quick turnaround of a previously moribund Bowling Green program in the early 2000s before moving on to Utah and transforming the Utes from just another mid-major team to a national power.

Then he took over a flagging Florida program that had posted three consecutive five-loss seasons and produced two national championships in his first four seasons in Gainesville.

Championship rings and winning percentages are but the tip of the iceberg for Meyer. He has exhibited a passion for winning, a penchant for hiring the best assistant coaches on the planet, utilizing an attack-style on offense, defense and special teams, and is an absolute beast on the recruiting trail.

He swears the health problems that dogged him during his last couple of years at Florida are behind him because he has learned to delegate responsibility among his assistants – something he said he did better during the early portion of his coaching career.

The cherry on the top of this sundae for fans is that Meyer – like Tressel before him – fully understands and embraces what it means to be head football coach at Ohio State. He is a born-and-bred Buckeye who heaped equal parts boyhood hero worship upon Archie Griffin and Woody Hayes before embarking upon his college coaching career with two seasons on Earle Bruce’s staff at Ohio State.

That career has taken him to such far-flung places as Normal, Ill., Fort Collins, Colo., and South Bend, Ind., as well as Bowling Green, Ohio, Salt Lake City and Gainesville, Fla., but his admitted dream was always to sit the same chair once occupied by his idol Hayes and his mentor Bruce.

“Everybody says, ‘Is Ohio State your dream job?’ That’s a term that’s thrown around really loosely,” Meyer said during his introductory news conference. “To say I was this big and wanted to coach at Florida, (the answer is) no. I’m not from Florida. …

“(But) I wanted to coach there, I will always be a Gator, will always be a part of that situation. … However, this is my home state. And it’s great to be back home.”

And if that doesn’t convince you of Meyer’s affinity for Ohio State, remember back to his team’s 41-14 win over the Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game following the 2006 season.

The Gators had a 34-14 halftime lead in that game and Meyer had a first national title ring in his sights. Had he chosen to do so, he could have made a major-league statement by stomping the Buckeyes into submission. Instead, he chose to take his foot completely off the gas in the second half and coast home with the victory.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t want to like the guy.

Meyer has the reputation (some say well-deserved) for being media unfriendly, several times taking public umbrage with reporters who wrote something he did not particularly like. In this day and age, that might be a badge of honor for the average Ohio State fan still smarting from how ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other media outlets seemingly went out of their way to trash the Buckeyes over the past year. But that kind of behavior can also come off as thin-skinned and petty.

Then there was the litany of off-the-field problems Meyer experienced with his players while at Florida, something the coach tried to downplay during his Monday news conference. Nevertheless, if there is anything Ohio State does not need in its immediate future, it is players being arrested on a regular basis no matter how trivial the violation.

Of course, there are plausible explanations for both problems.

First, Gainesville is a small, close-knit community smack dab in the middle of the pressure-packed SEC where fans and their head football coaches have always had a love-hate relationship. If you don’t believe me, check out what Gator Nation has to say about Meyer taking the Ohio State job. Most cannot be repeated in a family newspaper, but the comments are peppered with such words as “quitter” and “traitor.”

Secondly, Meyer was forced to recruit the best athletes in the Sunshine State, and despite his protestations to the contrary, sometimes the best athletes are not the best character guys. One needs only to think of a certain former Ohio State quarterback’s off-the-field indiscretions and the firestorm it created.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, of course, we need to be reminded that Meyer is not Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh or the second coming of Hayes. His tenure will undoubtedly feature its share of bumps along the road. That is the nature of the beast that is college football today. Meyer isn’t going to win every game and fans are going to question his every move – win or lose.

But I simply can’t escape the notion that the Ohio State football program is emerging from one of the darkest chapters in its long history having hit the coaching lottery, and a year for now, two at the most, the events of 2011 will be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

** LSU and Houston successfully negotiated the 2011 regular season as the only undefeated teams in Division I-A (aka the Football Bowl Subdivision). Both teams are 12-0 and play for their respective conference championships tomorrow.

** When LSU stampeded its way to a 41-17 win over Arkansas last Friday, it pushed the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games. Houston is next, of course, with its 12-game win streak while Georgia – which faces the Bayou Bengals in the SEC title game – has won 10 in a row.

** Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for Florida Atlantic, which escaped a winless season thanks to last week’s 38-35 win over UAB. The longest losing streak in I-A football now belongs to Kansas and Tulane, each of which has dropped 10 in a row. Indiana is next with nine while Maryland and Akron will each head into 2012 with eight-game losing streaks.

** The Terrapins extended their losing streak last week with an epic collapse, blowing a 41-14 third-quarter lead as North Carolina State scored 42 unanswered points for a 56-41 win.

** I’m going to wait until after this weekend’s games to cast my Heisman Trophy ballot. I have eliminated a couple of players and have whittled my choices to Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Alabama RB Trent Richardson and USC QB Matt Barkley. Yes, I know that RG-3 is the only one of that trio who is in action this weekend. His performance against Texas will help determine the 1-2-3 ranking on my ballot.

** Proof that no one plays defense in what is left of the Big 12: last Saturday’s game between Texas Tech and Baylor. The Bears took a 66-42 victory in Waco despite the fact Griffin spent the second half sidelined with a head injury. (He is scheduled to play this week.) The team combined for 1,061 yards of total offense

** Illinois is believed to be the first team in history to begin the season 6-0 and then finish 0-6. The collapse cost Ron Zook his job, a termination that might end the Zookster’s career as a head coach. He is 57-64 in three seasons at Florida and seven seasons with the Illini. On the bright side, someone in the NFL will likely hire Zook as an assistant. He spent 1996-2001 in the league at Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New Orleans.

** Look for Illinois to take a run at Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, who has plenty of Big Ten experience. Sumlin was a linebacker at Purdue from 1983-86 and later spent time as an assistant coach at Minnesota (1993-97) and his alma mater, coaching receivers on Joe Tiller’s staff in West Lafayette from 1998-2000.

** Speaking of the league, congratulations to former Ohio State assistant coach Mel Tucker, who was elevated to head coach at Jacksonville when the Jaguars fired Jack Del Rio on Tuesday. Tucker was on Jim Tressel’s staff at OSU from 2001-04 and spent four seasons in Cleveland before joining Del Rio in Jacksonville in 2009.

** Michigan’s 40-34 victory over Ohio State was the first win for the Wolverines since 2003 and featured their first 40-point effort against the Buckeyes since a 58-6 win in 1946. It also featured the first time the Buckeyes had lost a game in the series when they had scored at least 34 points. They had topped that mark eight previous times against U-M, all victories.

** Now is a great time to be a quarterback in the state of Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Russell Wilson has a 28-to-3 touchdown-interception ratio, and his efficiency rating of 192.90 is on course to break Colt Brennan’s record of 186.0 in 2006. Just up the road, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has an identical 28-to-3 ratio, and his rating of 130.7 is on course to break Peyton Manning’s NFL record of 121.1 in 2004. (Thanks to USA Today’s Mike Lopresti for that nugget.)

** Junior cornerback Jemarlous Moten of Louisiana-Lafayette returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown during his team’s 45-37 loss to Arizona last weekend and tied a 40-year-old record in the process. The Ragin’ Cajuns returned seven interceptions for touchdowns this season, tying the mark established in 1971 by Tennessee.

** If you think time of possession is overrated, you’re right – especially if you have a quick-strike offense. Oregon ranks dead last among 120 Division I-A schools in time of possession at 24:46 a game. However, the Ducks are third in the nation in scoring at 45.9 points per outing.

** Kentucky hadn’t beaten SEC rival Tennessee in football since 1985 – until last week. Using converted receiver Matt Roark to quarterback and giving him a limited number of plays, the Wildcats somehow pulled off a 10-7 victory to end a 26-game losing streak in the series. Roark, pressed into service when UK’s top two quarterbacks were sidelined with injuries, went 4 for 6 for 15 yards passing but rushed 24 times for 124 yards.

** The loss to Kentucky dropped Tennessee to 6-7 and gave the Volunteers back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1910 and ’11. The longest streak since consecutive losing seasons now belongs to Ohio State. The Buckeyes haven’t had sub-.500 seasons back to back since 1923 and ’24.

THIS WEEK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

** On Nov. 30, 1935, No. 2 SMU scored a come-from-behind 20-14 win over No. 1 TCU, giving the Ponies an undefeated regular season, the Southwest Conference title and a Rose Bowl berth. It would be another 71 years until a major conference had two unbeaten teams with records of at least 10-0 playing one another. That came in 2006 when Ohio State pulled out a 42-39 victory over Big Ten foe Michigan.

** On Nov. 30, 1968, second-ranked USC and No. 9 Notre Dame played to a 21-21 tie in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Fighting Irish took a 21-7 halftime lead behind quarterback Joe Theismann, who was making his first collegiate start. But the Trojans came back in the second half, thanks to a touchdown from senior tailback O.J. Simpson and a 40-yard scoring pass from QB Steve Sogge to Sam Dickerson. Notre Dame kicker Scott Hempel missed a 33-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds to go to preserve the tie.

** On Dec. 1, 2001, top-ranked Miami (Fla.) held off No. 13 Virginia Tech, 26-24, in Blacksburg to clinch at spot in the Rose Bowl. The Hokies roared back from a 26-10 deficit starting the fourth quarter, but the Hurricanes preserved the win when safety Ed Reed picked off passes on Tech’s final two drives.

** On Dec. 2, 1978, No. 2 Alabama clinched the SEC title with a 34-16 victory over Auburn. Crimson Tide QB Jeff Rutledge threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and the win propelled Alabama into a 1 vs. 2 showdown with Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

** On Dec. 3, 1999, ninth-ranked Marshall scored a wild 34-30 win over Western Michigan to claim a 12-0 regular season and the Mid-American Conference championship. The Broncos built a 23-0 third-quarter lead, but MU quarterback Chad Pennington rallied the Thundering Herd with three touchdown passes, the last one with four seconds to play.

** On Dec. 4, 1971, San Diego State and North Texas combined set a college football record for total plays in a regulation game during a 44-28 win for the Aztecs. San Diego State ran 99 plays while North Texas countered with 97 for a grand total of 196, a record that stood until 2003 when Arkansas and Kentucky combined to run 202 plays in a game that lasted seven overtimes.

FEARLESS FORECAST

We’re enjoying a season for the ages here at Forecast World Headquarters. Last week, for the third time this year, we had a perfect 10-0 record in the straight-up picks to go to 113-19 SU and moved back above 90 percent for the season.

Against the spread, it was another winner at 7-2-1 with the only losses coming when Notre Dame and Michigan failed to cover. Notre Dame and Michigan, huh? Figures, doesn’t it? Oh, well, we’re a solid 65 percent ATS this year with an 83-44-3 record.

Before taking a couple of weeks off in preparation for the bowl season, let’s see what’s on tap for this week.

TODAY’S GAME

UCLA at No. 9 Oregon: Conference commissioners should be careful what they wish for. The Pac-12’s inaugural championship game in football features a 6-6 team coming off a 50-0 blowout loss that just fired its coach. If you think the Quack Attack will have any sympathy for the Bruins, think again. Oregon has won 22 of its last 23 games in Autzen Stadium and will probably treat the Uclans as just another speed bump on the way to a second Rose Bowl in three years … Oregon 65, UCLA 10. (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

SATURDAY’S GAMES

No. 14 Georgia vs. No. 1 LSU: We like to give credit where credit is due, and congratulations are in order for Mark Richt and his Bulldogs who have rallied from an 0-2 start to win 10 straight games. Unfortunately for them, their reward is a ticket to the Georgia Dome to play the powerhouse Tigers. UGA quarterback Aaron Murray (2,698 yards, 30 TDs) has had a superlative season, and he leads an offense that averages 34.0 points per game. But Murray hasn’t seen any defense the likes of what LSU is going to throw at him. The Boys from the Bayou rank no lower than sixth nationally in any major defensive stat, including No. 2 in scoring (10.6 points per game). We look for the Tigers to stomp their way through Georgia, setting up a rematch with Alabama for the national title … LSU 34, Georgia 7. (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 3 Oklahoma State: If you like offense, this is the game for you. They call this instate rivalry the Bedlam Game, but not matter what they call it, it’s going to be a good, old-fashioned shootout. Two of college football’s best quarterbacks will fill the air with footballs as OU’s Landry Jones and OSU’s Brandon Weeden have combined to throw for 8,163 yards and 62 TDs this season. The only separation might be at receiver – Jones lost his No. 1 target Ryan Broyles a couple of weeks ago while the Sooners have Justin Blackmon, who ranks among the nation’s best with 103 catches for 1,241 yards and 15 TDs. Oklahoma has won eight straight in the series, including its last four trips to Stillwater. The Cowboys always play OU close at home and can score with anyone, but we just don’t think they have quite enough defense … Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 42. (8 p.m. ET, ABC)

No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 20 Clemson: The landscape surrounding these two teams has changed quite a bit since the Tigers’ 23-3 win on Oct. 1. The Hokies have won seven in a row while Clemson has dropped three of its last four, including a particularly ugly 34-13 loss to South Carolina last week. Despite the slide, the Tigers can salvage things with a victory and the automatic BCS berth that goes with winning the ACC title game. Unfortunately, they’re bucking history. The Hokies have twice before had a rematch with a team that beat them during the regular season and won both times. Look for them to run that streak to three … Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 17. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Southern Miss at No. 6 Houston: No, Conference USA football is not the same as SEC football, but the league’s championship game should be entertaining just the same. The Cougars, of course, feature a high-flying offense with QB Case Keenum (4,726, 43 TDs) leading the way. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles have their own excellent quarterback in Austin Davis (3,052 yards, 24 TDs), and the No. 12 pass efficiency defense in the country. Yet somehow, two weeks ago, Southern Miss lost a 34-31 decision at 3-9 UAB. Keenum and his Cougars should be able to get it done, but not only won’t it be easy, they’d better be on upset watch all afternoon … Houston 35, Southern Miss 27. (12 noon ET, ABC)

New Mexico at No. 7 Boise State: This one isn’t too hard to figure. The Broncos own the top offense and defense in the Mountain West while the Lobos have arguably the worst offense and defense in the entire nation. They have been outscored by a lopsided 455-144 margin, so the Boise offense and QB Kellen Moore (3,194 yards, 38 TDs) might be interested in making a statement while celebrating Senior Night on the Smurf Turf. Also, Broncos head coach Chris Peterson can tie the school record for career victories, and it might be his final night in Boise as well since Peterson’s name has been linked to opening at UCLA … Boise State 49, New Mexico 0. (6 p.m. ET, The Mtn.)

Iowa State at No. 11 Kansas State: Despite an offense that ranks ninth in Big 12 and a defense that ranks only fifth, the Wildcats find themselves gunning for their first 10-win season since 2003. They can also clinch a share of their first conference title in eight years in they can get past the pesky Cyclones, who have upsets of then-No. 19 Texas Tech and then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on their 2011 résumé. Iowa State is a scrappy team that has flourished since freshman QB Jared Barnett took over the starting job, but like all young teams the Cyclones are prone to making mistakes. That and the fact they have lost three of their five road contests this season leads to this pick … Kansas State 27, Iowa State 20. (12:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

No. 15 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Michigan State: Six weeks ago, the Badgers were the No. 6 team in the nation and on their way – at least so they thought – to playing for the national championship. Then Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game, and Wisconsin trudged their home following a 37-31 loss. Both teams lost the following week – UW to Ohio State and MSU to Nebraska – and then finished the season with four straight victories. Still, it seems Bucky is on the better roll, especially with the way RB Montee Ball has been punishing opposing defenses. Since being held to 85 yards vs. Ohio State, Ball has averaged 192.3 yards and nearly three touchdowns per game. Sparty has the Big Ten’s top rush defense, and they have Cousins (2,735, 21 TDs), who has by far had his finest season. But Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson (2,692 yards, 28 TDs) is the difference-maker. Russell has pitched only three interceptions all season, and two of them came in the loss to MSU. Don’t expect him to make the same mistakes again … Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 23. (8:17 p.m. ET, Fox)

No. 22 Texas at No. 17 Baylor: To say the Bears have struggled in their century-long series with the Longhorns would be an understatement. They are 23-73-4 against their neighbors to the south, and last year’s win in Austin snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series. Worse yet, Baylor hasn’t enjoyed back-to-back wins over Texas since 1991-92. That drought could be over this year, especially if QB Robert Griffin III (3,678 yards, 34 TDs) is ready to go after bumping his head last week and being held out of the second half of a 66-42 win over Texas Tech. While the Bears have a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in Griffin, the Longhorns have struggled to find their own offensive identity. Defense isn’t a problem, though. Texas has the best defense in the Big 12 and ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency defense. It’s a pretty simple scenario – if Griffin does what he’s capable of doing, his team wins and he garners a bunch of Heisman support in the process … Baylor 38, Texas 31. (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

UNLV at No. 18 TCU: Before they leave for the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have some unfinished business in the mighty Mountain West – namely a 23-game conference win streak. That shouldn’t be too difficult since the Runnin’ Rebels have been run over by most of their opponents this season. Vegas has lost 15 straight road games and is 0-4 lifetime in Fort Worth, getting outscored by a 168-47 margin. If that’s not bad enough, the Rebels rank 117th nationally in scoring defense while the Frogs own the country’s 10th-best scoring offense. We started this week’s forecast with a blowout and we’ll finish with another … TCU 49, UNLV 7. (2:30 p.m. ET, Versus)

Here are the spreads for the above games: UCLA at Oregon (-31½); Georgia vs. LSU (-10); Oklahoma (+3½) at Oklahoma State; Virginia Tech (-4½) vs. Clemson; Southern Miss (+17) at Houston; New Mexico (+52) at Boise State; Iowa State (+12) at Kansas State; Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (+9½); Texas at Baylor (-2½); UNLV at TCU (-38).

Enjoy the games and we’ll visit again in a couple of weeks.

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