Ohio State prepares for first Big Ten title game in Meyer era
Staring down a dream, it’s important to note Urban Meyer has been here before.
Several times, in fact.
He chased down a BCS bowl at Utah as the highest-ranked non-BCS team of 2004 with players such as Alex Smith and Sione Pouha. He returned to a BCS bowl three times in four years at Florida, including two national championships, with guys such as Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes, among others.
Now in the fourth head coaching stop of his illustrious career, it’s the No. 10 MSU football team (11-1 overall, 8-0 Big Ten) standing in the way of Meyer and a third national championship appearance with No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 8-0). And in getting his first crack at the Big Ten Championship Game, Meyer recognizes the significance of the event on a national scale, given what it means to both programs.
A year after the Buckeyes narrowly defeated MSU 17-16 in a regular season matchup at Spartan Stadium, the two teams kick off Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game (8:17 p.m., FOX) — with major BCS bowl implications on both sides.
“This is the first one I’ve been a part of, so I think on a national scale, you have two top-10 teams that are gonna be playing against each other, and with a lot at stake,” Meyer said. “I mean, everything’s at stake. Like any other major conference, you’re dealing with two top-10 teams fighting for the ultimate prize and obviously, some very good BCS bowls.”
An Ohio State victory likely sends the Buckeyes to the BCS National Championship Game, while the Spartans are the Big Ten’s best bet to go to the Rose Bowl. If the Spartans get the win, MSU will be smelling the roses in a certain trip to Pasadena, Calif. — the program’s first since 1988.
Similar to the playmakers he’s had at Utah and Florida, Meyer will go to battle Saturday with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde — a duo which Meyer said “might be the best” quarterback-running back combination he’s ever had.
Miller was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive year in a season where he threw for 1,759 yards and 21 touchdowns while he rushed for 891 yards and eight touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Hyde was arguably the Big Ten’s best running back, finishing the regular season with 1,290 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Meyer said the key to beating the Spartans is managing the distractions in preparation on and off the field, allowing the Buckeyes to focus on the task at hand and not look beyond Saturday’s primetime showdown with MSU.
“Every coach will tell you the secret to winning a game is, especially the bigger the game, (is minimizing) the more distractions,” Meyer said. “For example, we were in a big game (against Michigan) and we made some errors we haven’t really made throughout the course of the year, and it’s ‘Why would you do that now?’
“It’s just the distractions, the hype, the lack of focus sometimes happens with … coaches and players.”
The Buckeyes are on the cusp of their second consecutive undefeated season, but were left out in the cold of postseason considerations as a result of NCAA sanctions on the program. Now, free of sanctions, the Buckeyes are gunning for the nation’s top prize.
And as it pertains to the national discussion, many are ready to book Ohio State’s trip to the BCS National Championship Game.
Senior linebacker Max Bullough said the Buckeyes play at a much more comfortable pace this season, no doubt a benefit of another season in Meyer’s program. However, Bullough was clear that he doesn’t care if MSU is considered an underdog on Saturday — the only thing that matters is what their team can control.
“We win this game and we’re going to be talking about Michigan State is going to the Rose Bowl the right way, not the back door. They’re the Big Teb champs outright,” Bullough said. “That’s what we’re worried about. We’re worried about going there and being 12?1, like Coach D said, and worrying about things we can control. We can’t control who talks about what, who says this or that, where Ohio State goes if they win or lose