The SEC (Southeastern Conference), in the form we’ve come to know of it since 2006, died on New Year’s Day. In lieu of flowers, send recruits from Florida, Texas, and California who can run 4.3 40s.
Actually, scratch that. Because that is not what the new power shift in college football is about. Because the SEC is all about, and will always be about, speed, and power, and strength, and the fact is the South will always care more about college football than other regions of the country, just like people in Boston and St. Louis have a special predilection towards baseball.
Football in itself is changing. In the NFL, it has been mistakenly called the “Mobile QB Era.” And, while that and what is really going on is not mutually exclusive the real answer is this: the game changed towards the offense. In fact, mobile QBs benefit more than traditional pocket passers, which is how that misconception came about.
This is not a new phenomenon. Bill Walsh changed the game back in the ‘80s with the West Coast offense. Sometimes, the change is more subtle, like the emphasis of a Left Tackle to protect a quarterback’s blind side, which came about after Lawrence Taylor ended Joe Theismann’s career on a brutal sack.
It is not particularly important if, as a coach, you are the trailblazer or not; the important thing is being able to recognize the change taking place and capitalizing. The only difference between Chip Kelly, who is credited for popularizing many of the changes in this new era, and someone like Art Briles, who recognized the change taking place, is that Kelly has an NFL contract, while Briles is content at Baylor (even though he could have an NFL job in a heartbeat).
This thought process is not unique to sports. Think of Netflix and Blockbuster. One realized that the convenience of streaming movies and TV from home for a monthly price is the way of the future; one is out of business.
And that brings me to two schools, and, really, one man: Urban Meyer. Meyer, quite frankly, is a genius. Not just a great offensive mind, but an incredible coach overall. I know this because I used to have the pleasure of watching him coach my beloved Gators for six years, until he retired for a year before going to Ohio State.
With all respect to Steve Spurrier, who, full disclosure, is my namesake, Urban Meyer is the greatest coach in Florida football history. And I am willing to bet that he will be the greatest coach in Ohio State history by the time he is done there, with full respect to Woody Hayes.
I am comfortable saying that. And here is why: Before Chip Kelly, there was Urban Meyer. He came to the SEC and changed the best conference on Earth permanently. That change set the course for the rest of the country. Namely, it said: you need speed, and you need to throw the ball, but, most importantly, you need to be lucky if you want to beat us.
That is what those old Gators teams were like. And that is what I saw when I watched the Buckeyes thrash Alabama. And when I say “thrash,” please know I am not trying to rub salt in Alabama’s wounds. The fact that they lost to a 3rd string quarterback who was only playing his second game should do that. Go back and read that sentence again. Do it again for good measure. Urban Meyer beat Nick Saban and an Alabama team with a 3rd string quarterback who was only playing his second game. And they thrashed them.
The narrative after that game was this: Urban SEC’d OSU. And, that is right, to some extent. He recruited speed and strength and size and only targeted players who were bigger and faster and stronger. It felt like I was watching the 2006 National Championship game again, when the Gators had the same swagger the Buckeyes had now, and used it to destroy and unkillable Ohio State team.
But can they beat Oregon? Most people bristled at the thought of Ohio State getting into the playoff, advocating for either TCU or Baylor. Urban had a month to fuel his team with the sentiment that they need to prove they belong, and they did so. Urban had a month to prepare for Alabama’s loaded yet traditional attack. He had about ten days to prepare for Oregon’s fast-paced wide-open offense.
It reminds me of my favorite coaching story ever. After the 2009 SEC Championship, when Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide whipped Urban’s Gators, Saban was worried of a let-down effect in the National Championship game, played over a month later against Texas. He held a screening for his entire team of the movie Miracle, with the lesson that the US Hockey Team beat the Soviets only in the Semifinals, for all it is celebrated. In order to win gold, they still had to win one more against Finland.
Alabama won that national title 37-21.
I believe in Urban. I have watched too much of him to be fooled in this game.
POST-GAME NOTES AND ANALYSIS:
I’m not sure what I just watched. Sure, from everything I wrote above, it would seem that I had some premonition that the Buckeyes would win. And, sure, I would have bet on Ohio State to win if I were in Vegas.
But the way they won? They bullied a team that appeared resistant to being bullied all year. The only fair match-up for Ohio State’s offensive line in that game was Ohio State’s defensive line, which makes me wish I could watch them practice. Ezekiel Elliot ran around on Oregon like it was a family backyard football game at Thanksgiving, and Cardale Jones is the hypercompetitive older and larger cousin who is in High School and allegedly went to third base with three different girls at Prom.
In fact, that was the play that sealed it. That quarterback sneak. That beautiful travesty. I’ve never seen anything like it. Cardale literally got stopped. Oregon was getting the ball back. Of course, early on it was clear the game wasn’t going to go the Ducks’ way; that dropped bomb to set up an Oregon punt made sure of that.
But that quarterback sneak. When Cardale decided to just run around everybody. And then jump over two people. And clear the yard-mark by at least half a yard. That is when the game was over.
There is a parallel to this game, and it is another Urban Meyer national title victory. And, no, it is not the 2006 one, as I mentioned in the pre-game piece above. It is the 2008 national title, against Oklahoma.
If you remember, Oklahoma came into that game, statistically speaking, with the greatest offense college football ever saw. They had future number 1 overall pick Sam Bradford at quarterback, future Cowboys stud Demarco Murray at running back, and were absolutely loaded at every other offensive position. The Gators were coming into that game putting together an offensive half-season that would make Gus Malzahn weep.
The fun thing to say for pundits predicting that game was “first team to 70 wins.” The Gators won 24-14. Why? Because a great defense trumps a world-breaking offense. And that’s exactly what happened tonight. In the pre-game piece I wrote how much this Ohio State team reminded me of those Gators national title teams. They have the same swagger and speed at every position. And they have Urban Meyer. When push comes to shove, always go with the team who has Urban Meyer.