Urban Meyer was in an elite class of college football coaches prior to Ohio State’s 42-35 defeat of Alabama in Thursday’s Sugar Bowl.
With national championships in 2006 and 2008, Meyer is one of only two active head coaches with multiple titles. But by beating the other such coach, Nick Saban, Meyer dispelled the one myth that may have prevented him from getting his due as one of the game’s all-time greats.
To find a more conspiracy theory-minded bunch than college football fans, one would have to tune into Alex Jones — and I wouldn’t recommend anyone do that.
One of the more popular conspiracy theories of the last half-decade is when Urban Meyer suddenly retired in Dec. 2009, only to un-retire then re-retire after the 2010 season, it was because of Saban’s arrival at Alabama.
See, the coach who led Utah to a perfect record in 2004, then claimed two national championships at Florida, was simply too yella to match wits with Saban, a sideline general whose face will surely be etched on college football’s Mount Rushmore.
And it wasn’t just Paul Finebaum Show callers, message board posters or Larry Culpepper perpetuating this myth. Here’s the introduction to Kevin Scarbinsky’s column on AL.com, just after the College Football Playoff committee announced Alabama vs. Ohio State for its Sugar Bowl semifinal:
The last two times they met, Nick Saban made Urban Meyer quit.
Ouch. And to provide further context, the kicker paragraph drives home that no, this isn’t tongue-in-cheek:
We know what kind of coach Meyer is, too. He’s a very good one who wins everywhere he goes. He just wins a little more when he doesn’t have to contend with Saban.
So despite winning big at Bowling Green and Utah, winning even bigger at Florida, and going 24-0 in his first 24 games at Ohio State, Nick Saban remained Urban Meyer’s white whale.
Well, no need to call me Ishmael, because this story is no Moby Dick.
Urban Meyer harpooned his white whale Thursday night, leaving no room for excuses. This was no “consolation game,” the significance of which Saban can downplay later.
This was a semifinal in the first postseason wherein an SEC championship didn’t function as a FastPass into the title game.
Faced with having to play its way in, Alabama gave up 42 points and 537 yards to an offense with a third-string quarterback behind center.
Now, make no mistake: Cardale Jones has future star written all over him. He’s reminiscent of Cam Newton in that he’s built like a defensive end, yet has the agility of a much smaller player.
It’s not as if Ohio State’s offense was left in the hands of a walk-on when J.T. Barrett went down.
Still, Jones’ impressive play in each of his first two career starts just goes to further solidify Urban Meyer’s quarterback coaching credentials.
Alex Smith developed into a No. 1 NFL draft pick under Meyer’s leadership, Tim Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were tabbed as contenders for the award at different points in 2014.
It’s early to add Cardale Jones to that list, but the youngster’s career is certainly off to a strong start.
Of course, it certainly didn’t hurt Jones that running back Ezekiel Elliott, carrying behind a dominant line, punished the once vaunted Alabama defense for 230 yards.
Elliott’s performance was a mix of the old and new: A Big Ten flourishing with an aggressive, ground-and-pound run game but doing so out of a high-tempo, spread set.
Meyer thrived with the same style at Florida, and at Ohio State, he’s taking it to another level.
With a win over Oregon on Jan. 12, Urban Meyer would join Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, John McKay and Frank Leahy in an even more exclusive coaching club. He’d still be one championship behind Nick Saban, but he’s already proven once now that he’s unafraid to go right at the Alabama legend.