Go ahead and make all of the “family” and “sabbatical” jokes you want; Urban Meyer will just continue winning football games and defying the detractors, thank you very much.
Entering the College Football Playoff title game, Meyer was already considered one of the best head coaches in college football. Exiting it, he’s cozied up side-by-side with the current king of college football coaching.
The resounding 45-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff title game marked the third of Meyer’s career, with the first two coming at Florida. The only other head coach in the history of college football to win national titles at two different schools? Nick Saban, who’s won three at Alabama after winning one at LSU.
What sets Meyer apart from Saban, or anyone else for that matter, however, is this latest title.
Never once did Saban win a title at either school with a backup quarterback; Meyer’s third title came with his third quarterback of the year. It was, simply put, one of the greatest coaching jobs in recent college football history. Or ever.
And it wasn’t just overcoming the losses at such a key position. There was the inexplicable loss on the field — double-digit defeat to Virginia Tech in Columbus — and an unbearable loss off of it — the suicide of walk-on Kosta Karageorge — that Meyer and his coaching staff were forced to navigate, each requiring different, nuanced approaches to get the team back on track and pointed toward what became an increasingly obtainable postseason goal.
Even coming into the season there were question marks, with the offensive line needing to replace four starters and the running game searching for a replacement for All-Big Ten running back Carlos Hyde. At season’s end, OSU’s line was one of the best in the Big Ten if not the country while Ezekiel Elliott (76-696-8 in three postseason games) made fans say “Carlos who?”
Despite all of that tumult and turmoil, Meyer and the Buckeyes began the postseason by curb-stomping Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game, then beating the Nos. 1 (Alabama) and 2 (Oregon) playoff seeds to win the program’s first championship in a dozen years. Viewed through the prism of a third-string quarterback, it was as epic of a run that you may ever see from a team that, from the inside, wasn’t really expected to do much even prior to Braxton Miller‘s injury. As I wrote earlier, the scariest part for college football in general and the Big Ten specifically is that Meyer himself acknowledged during the early portion of the season this team was a year away from contending for a national title.
Instead, that internal plan was accelerated by a year in very public fashion, with Ohio State, given the copious number of returning talent, likely entering 2015 as the No. 1 team in the country. And, after the way the 2014 season began, it’s astounding that statement can be made in anything other than jest. After seeing the buzzsaw Meyer’s Buckeyes became, it’s anything but.
On the field, with the win in the semifinal, Meyer and Saban are now 2-2 in head-to-head meetings. On the recruiting trail, where wins are nurtured and cultivated, Saban remains the king — but Meyer’s not far behind.
Provided this year’s class remains where it’s at, the Tide will pull in the No. 1 recruiting class for the seventh time in the last eighth cycles. In Meyer’s first three years, the Buckeyes finished third (2014), second (2013) and fourth (2012); this year’s class is currently seventh, although it’s expected to be Top-Five in caliber by the time Signing Day rolls around next month.
Along with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Meyer and Saban will continue to battle it out for years on the recruiting front. How many years will that battle continue?
Saban is 63 years old, while Meyer is 50. Both coaches are within reach of tying, or even surpassing, Bear Bryant‘s individual record of five national championships. How long Saban wants to continue coaching remains to be seen, although it doesn’t appear that the desire will burn out anytime soon. Perhaps, even, the ascension of Meyer and the Buckeyes will help that fire burn a little hotter.
Saban then Meyer, or Meyer then Saban? I don’t really know; I’ll let others put one ahead of the other if that’s the tack they want to take.
What I do know is that they are both the best the game of college football has to offer right now, and are among the best in any sport. Something else I know? If I had a son, I’d want him to play for either coach. That’s the highest compliment I can pay either man.
The coaching legacies will ultimately work themselves out, but there was one certainty prior to Monday night: if Meyer hadn’t caught Saban, he was nipping at his heels. Post-Monday night? At bare minimum, Meyer has pulled up side-by-side with his former, current and future nemesis.
Let the debate rage. Being nearly a decade and a half younger and after further bolstering the résumé to near-Nicktator proportions, though, it’s no longer a given that when somebody asks who the best coach in college football is, the name “Saban” is automatically blurted out.