In one of the final scenes of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” Darth Vader’s spacecraft is shot by Han Solo and spins out of control into the bleakness of space. Ohio State football was largely in that same situation of an out-of-control ride this past year, quickly trying to right ship after a year in which the school recorded its highest total of losses since 1897 and faced scrutiny amid NCAA investigations.
The Buckeyes have answered the turmoil of the recent year with wrath, righting the ship like Vader did in “The Empire Strikes Back” to strike back at the rebels. All nerdy Star Wars references aside, one of the historical dominant powers in the Big Ten is very much basking in the sunlight after a year shrouded in darkness. Recovering from a 6-7 season in which the Buckeyes lost their last four games, including a Gator Bowl appearance against Florida, athletic director Gene Smith generated a whirlwind of change at Ohio State and in the conference with the hiring of Urban Meyer as the new head coach.
If trends hold true, it looks certain that Meyer will lead the Buckeyes to success. Meyer took two lower-tier programs in Bowling Green and Utah at the start of his career and turned them around instantly. In a sport where winning is everything, Meyer’s combined 104-23 coaching record speaks for itself, including two wins in the national championship game and a 4-0 record in BCS bowls overall. Besides the stellar coaching record at different universities, an immeasurable part of Meyer’s aura as a recruiter and coach is the amount of NFL players he turns out every year. While Tim Tebow may be his most famous alum to date, Meyer has coached more than 30 players that currently play on Sundays.
With a resume like that leading a program, it’s understandable why the Big Ten is recovering in shock from an odd set of recruiting circumstances. Meyer first played the role of vulture in his recruiting timeline after his hire, scooping up recruits out of the turmoil at Penn State, including one-time PSU commit defensive tackle Tommy Schutt (ranked No. 9 at his position by ESPN) and 5-star defensive end Noah Spence, who was once considered a lock to go to the Nittany Lions as well. Meyer ended up stealing away four potential PSU commits, but the Meyer effect wasn’t felt just in University Park, Pa.
Wisconsin, unfortunately, felt the bumps and bruises of Ohio State’s new coaching addition with the de-commitment of four-star recruit Kyle Dodson. The 6-foot-6 offensive tackle originally gave a verbal commitment to Wisconsin, turning down an offer from Ohio State in June of 2011, before Meyer was announced as the new leader of the Buckeyes. Now, Dodson is just one of many recruits to spurn a former commitment to join the Meyer wagon train.
The talk about Meyer violating some “gentlemen’s agreement” pertaining to recruiting in the Big Ten is irrelevant. Even if there is some unwritten rule in the conference about ceasing to pursue players after they verbally commit, it’s probably broken time and time again behind the scenes. It also doesn’t fit the situation of this year’s recruiting period. Many of the kids Meyer “recruited” had committed to other programs before major events occurred, i.e. Meyer’s signing as head coach. It’s hard to blame kids who didn’t want to play at Ohio State before he was hired; the Buckeyes had an interim head coach, ongoing NCAA investigations and a shabby record.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was upset about the style of recruiting Meyer brought to the Big Ten this offseason, which is understandable. In a span where the Badgers looked to finally have a recruiting edge in the conference, Bielema endured a hectic recruiting stretch mired in uncertainty due to an exodus of assistant coaches and Meyer’s aggressive recruiting tactics. But eventually, far more aggressive recruiting tactics like that experienced in Meyer’s heyday in the SEC was bound to spill over into the Big Ten. The only reason it was so public was because of the large scale of commitment switches by recruits to Ohio State after Meyer’s signing and the media’s widespread publication of Bielema’s comments.
Barry Alvarez went on record saying to ESPN, “Recruiting is recruiting until they sign. If we had somebody who changed their mind and came to us, that’s OK. Urban (Meyer) was very aggressive, but there is no pact within the conference not to continue to recruit. It’s open season until they sign.”
It seems that any unspoken agreement on recruiting in the Big Ten has evaporated for the time being, especially since Bielema claiming the situation with Meyer was rectified.
Meyer’s negative effect on recruiting for the rest of the Big Ten may yield fruits for the conference in the long haul. While the regional pull of Ohio State suddenly has become magnetic, the national recruiting appeal of a coach like Meyer could elevate the overall strength and prestige of the conference.
For multiple years it has gone without question that the SEC is the dominant conference in college football. But if Meyer can rebuild Ohio State into the Ohio State University, the best players in the nation will come to play in the Big Ten, eventually bringing an exodus of talent away from the South and toward the Midwest and the conference as a whole. Conferences may rise and fall in power, but one of the best things for the Big Ten is the rebirth of Michigan and Ohio State from their ashes to solidify and increase the competition and overall strength of the conference. And playing the best players and coaches in the country can only make a team better.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers will have plenty of chances to prove their own prestige in the upcoming years against a premier coach like Meyer. The Badgers, and Bielema, need to focus on building their program to a level that will cast a large shadow on the Buckeyes and Meyer. The first step will come Nov. 17, when Meyer will get his first taste of Wisconsin and the Saturday hell-house that is Camp Randall.
Is Wisconsin the new perennial power in the Big Ten, or will Ohio State unseat them to reclaim the throne and title it once held? Only time will tell, but it’s an offseason story line so thick and exciting that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could make a movie out of it … or at least a teaser for ESPN to play before the game.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and english. Think Urban Meyer is a dirty, filthy, recruit-stealing mongrel who wants nothing more than to pillage Wisconsin recruits unfairly? Think Nick’s “Star Wars” references were terrible? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or look for him in the sunless maze that is Humanities, where he usually writes his columns and has all his classes.