Big Ten Media Days: Urban Meyer says 'there's no gap at all' between Big Ten, SEC

The Big Ten has made major improvements since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)
The Big Ten has made major improvements since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

Urban Meyer made his debut at Big Ten Media Days as Ohio State’s head coach about five years ago.

That day, Meyer, fresh off a wildly successful tenure at Florida, was asked what separated the level of play in the Big Ten from the SEC. While noting the “cyclical” nature of college football, Meyer pointed to things like team speed and offensive styles, but he also made sure to note the most obvious thing: winning.

“The bottom line is go win,” Meyer said July 26, 2012. “How far are we from doing that? Coaches that have been in the conference for a while would know better than I do. I know one thing, I know there are some very, very good teams in this conference, so I anticipate winning is not that far off.”

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Meyer was certainly right about that, and his Ohio State teams have a lot to do with it. So how do the Big Ten and SEC compare now, in 2017?

“I don’t think there’s a gap at all,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Monday. “And that’s no disrespect to other conferences, but I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest in the country. And I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East.”

When arriving in the Big Ten, Meyer said he was “shocked” by the “disrespect” the Big Ten received on the recruiting trail. Things have changed pretty drastically since then.

“I don’t feel that at all anymore. I feel a great amount of respect nationally about the Big Ten,” Meyer said.

“You sit and look at the national recruiting rankings and you see the Big Ten everywhere, all over the place, and that’s the way it should be. There’s a lot of credit to be given, obviously to the administrations that invest in their programs and to the coaching staffs that are out there doing the work. And this is as tough a conference as there is.”

The Buckeyes have won double-digit games in all five of Meyer’s seasons, including the 2014 national championship year. OSU made it back to the College Football Playoff in 2016, but was throttled 31-0 in the semifinals by eventual champion Clemson.

The team’s struggles on offense were magnified in that game, prompting some thorough changes moving forward. Most notably, former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is the new offensive coordinator. Meyer admitted that game “changed how we do some business on offense,” but said in general the team has done its best to move on.

“I’ve been asked that a lot and we kind of let that one go,” Meyer said. “We’ve been known in the past to use different forms of motivation, a loss here or there. That ship has sailed. It’s gone. And we’ve not addressed it. We’ve not talked about it. Professionally, it changed how we do some business on offense and we’re moving forward.

“So it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, and whether I’ll use that during training camp or not is to be determined. But where we’re at as a team, I like where we’re at. So we’re just pushing forward.”

Chryst, Wisconsin learning from close losses

Wisconsin won the Big Ten West in 2016, but it was very close to achieving much bigger things. The Badgers finished the year with an 11-3 record. Each of those losses — to the top three teams in the Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan) — was by exactly seven points. Most notably, the Badgers had a big lead in the Big Ten title game against PSU, but lost 38-31.

On Monday, Badgers coach Paul Chryst said the team is using those games as learning experiences heading into 2017.

“I think that all your experiences you want to learn from, and we try to spend time with the players talking about what can we learn from, be it the close losses, the close wins, anything that you go through,” Chryst said.

“I like this team and this group. And we’ve got a lot of guys that have played in a number of big games and won a lot of them and have lost some of them. And they do a good job of sharing that with the other kids how you approach it. They’re learning as they go through it.”

One change for Wisconsin is the elevation of Jim Leonhard to defensive coordinator. Chryst said Leonhard’s ability to connect with the players is among his biggest strengths.

“Our players have gone through transitions. This will be the third defensive coordinator in three years. And I think one of the best qualities that Jimmy has is he understands football, but, more importantly, he understands players,” Chryst said. “And players know how he communicates with him. It’s one of his strengths. He’s a tremendous connector, connector of people, and so it’s been good.”

Tom Allen: Ohio State game is ‘biggest opener in the history of Indiana football’

Tom Allen used numbers to motivate his team, but it may not be quite what you’re thinking.

The new Indiana coach said he wrote three numbers on a board — 50, 26, 10 — and asked his players if they knew the significance of them. They didn’t.

“It’s been 50 years since we won the Big Ten; it’s been 26 years since we won a bowl game; it’s been 10 years since we had a winning season at Indiana,” Allen said.

“We’re going to accomplish all three of those, I told our team. If you don’t believe that, you need to leave. Said the same thing to our staff. I love them. I appreciate them. But I want a coaching staff, I want a football team that believes.”

IU has a chance to start its season with a big splash. The Hoosiers open up at home against Ohio State in a primetime Thursday night game. The game is a big deal for Indiana.

“We’re going to be bringing our players in August 1st to report, start practice on the 2nd, to prepare for the biggest opener in the history of Indiana football on August 31st when we play the Ohio State Buckeyes in Bloomington for an 8:00 kickoff,” Allen said. “It’s going to be a very exciting opportunity for me to be in my first home game as the head coach in my home state.”

Lovie Smith: ‘What a difference a year makes’

Lovie Smith was hired by Illinois in March of last year. That’s at least three months later than the average college coaching hire, so there wasn’t a lot of time to get acquainted with his new team.

In 2017, things are a lot different.

“What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I knew a few of the players, thought we knew what their roles would be. We have that down now,” Smith said. “(We’ve had) a year to work with the players off the field to really establish how we’re going to win football games. We’ve seen marked improvements”

Smith already knows Chayce Crouch will be his starter at quarterback. Crouch, who played in four games last season, should have the benefit of Mike Dudek’s return at wide receiver. After catching 76 balls as a freshman, Dudek missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries.

Smith said Dudek is “100 percent.”

“My experience teaches me that when you have a major injury like that, you do everything you possibly can to get back. You work harder than maybe you would have before,” Smith said. “I know Mike has been doing that. I know right now, as far as his speed and strength, he is back to where he was before. I just know he’ll give our offense a big boost.”

Michigan State emphasizing ‘commitment, change, and learning from the past’

Mark Dantonio kept his opening statement short.

“Last year I remember I stood up here talking about our culture, graduation, championships, those type of things. Now we talk about commitment, change, learning from the past,” Dantonio said.

“I’ll take questions.”

Things have changed significantly for MSU. After a miserable three-win season, four players were dismissed for sexual assault accusations. Dantonio was adamant about focusing on those issues in the spring, but now he’s ready to turn the attention to the field.

“I think we’re prepared for the next phase of our lives,” Dantonio said. “I think you’re always challenged. You’re always going to go through challenges. The more turmoil sometimes you have, maybe if you take it in the right vein maybe the stronger you get as you moved forward.

“So I sense the togetherness on our football team. I sense a sense of responsibility. We’ve had an outstanding summer conditioning program. And I think we’re poised for the next challenge.”

Dantonio pointed to his team’s youth several times on Monday, noting the Spartans “have about nine seniors on scholarship.” One player Dantonio is expecting a lot from is QB Brian Lewerke, who he compared to Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook.

“He’s got game experience. He’s almost up to 220 pounds, he’s got a great arm, he’s very cool under pressure,” Dantonio said. “I think he understands our players. He knows our players very well, knows things schematically. I think he’s a very quick learner. He has all the attributes that we need to be an outstanding, championship-type quarterback.”

Translating recruiting success to on-field success for Maryland

D.J. Durkin has made big strides for Maryland on the recruiting trail over the last two classes. The Terps made a bowl game in his first year, but have a much tougher schedule in 2017. He knows it won’t be easy to make a jump in the Big Ten East standings with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the division.

“Our conference as a whole and obviously in our division, you can definitely make an argument it’s the most competitive there is out there,” Durkin said. “And we’re getting closer and closer every day. I think we’re recruiting at a level that will put us in the position we want to be in, which is we’re here to win championships. We’re here to compete, to win it. That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Results won’t come overnight.

“It’s a process. Football is an ultimate team sport. And to go through our schedule you’ve got to have depth on your roster. You’ve got to build your roster all the way down,” Durkin said. “We’re definitely not there yet in terms of where we want to be, but we’re certainly a lot closer, and I like where we’re at. I think we have a team we can go compete with anyone we play.”

Ferentz praises Sean Welsh

(AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)
(AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

Kirk Ferentz’s press conference was very on-brand. It took less than a minute for the Iowa coach to bring up his kicking and punting battles in the same breath as his quarterback competition. He was also asked about an injured fullback, having two starting tight ends on the depth chart and playing Wyoming in the opener.

But Ferentz’s most intriguing answer came when he was asked about senior lineman Sean Welsh, who wrote an op-ed on the school website about managing his depression. To say Ferentz is proud of Welsh would be an understatement.

“I think it just speaks volumes about Sean as an individual, what a courageous young man he is. To watch him wage this fight the last couple of years has been more than impressive,” Ferentz said.

“We get to watch guys play football. It’s a tough, competitive game. But to watch a guy deal with an issue like this the way he has, is so important and so impressive. I really commend him for wanting to come forward.

“And it was all in the spirit of trying to help other people. Certainly depression doesn’t discriminate. Anybody is potentially vulnerable to it. I think him coming forward and handling it the way he did is so commendable and hopefully it helps other people down the road.”

Well said, Kirk.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!