Ohio State picks up pace to catch SEC

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – It was Ohio State media day Sunday, and star quarterback Braxton Miller was low-talking his way through every answer in an understated voice.

Until someone asked him whether he was anxious to get the ball to freshman running back/receiver Dontre Wilson.

"Ab-so-lute-ly!" Miller enthused. "He's a special kid."

The Heisman Trophy candidate then called Wilson "a bolt of lightning," adding to the August buzz building around the player Urban Meyer hopes is Percy Harvin 2.0.

"He's running by a lot of dudes," senior running back Jordan Hall said with a laugh. "I want you all to see it."

The wait to see it won't last long, if it's up to Wilson. Asked when he hoped to make his first impact, he said, "Hopefully the first kickoff return of the season."

If Wilson is that good, it will be one more reason why the rest of the Big Ten should be very afraid of what Meyer seems poised to do for the foreseeable future. Namely, to do unto this league what Nick Saban is doing to the Southeastern Conference.

Dominate it.

Meyer went undefeated on his first trip through the Big Ten, and that was with an offense the coach conceded couldn't run much of his spread-option playbook and lacked big-play ability. After adding a few pieces like Wilson, the explosiveness of the offense should be upgraded in 2013.

"We're a faster team," Meyer said. "The spread offense … you force the defense to defend 53 1/3 yards [the width of the field]. The Ohio State Buckeyes didn't do that a year ago.

"The '06 [freshman class] did that at Florida, injected a bunch of speed and playmakers [on a team that won the national title]. I see very similar qualities."

Hopefully without similar arrest records. But let's leave this on the field for today.

Armed with more weapons, Meyer stands a great chance of going undefeated through the Big Ten again this year – and this time there is no NCAA probation prohibiting Ohio State from playing for conference and national titles. They can do more than simply put a street sign reading "12-0 Row" up outside Ohio Stadium this year. They can play for it all.

But as the buildup intensifies for this season, the important detail is where Meyer is getting his transfusion of playmakers. And what that signals to the competition.

Wilson is from Desoto, Texas. He was committed to Oregon until Chip Kelly left for the NFL. In reopening his recruitment and choosing Ohio State, Wilson joined five-star linebacker recruit Mike Mitchell of Plano as Texas transplants to Columbus.

In a karmic flourish, the Texas tandem both had the black stripes removed from their helmets at practice Saturday – just the second and third freshmen to earn the honor this August. Taking off the black stripe is Meyer's way of signifying that they are ready to become Buckeyes and contribute to a team (and a conference) that is in dire need of cracking the Southern stranglehold on speed.

"We're kind of like a gateway to Texas," Mitchell said. "Coach Meyer is going to start recruiting speed now to the Big Ten. … We're going to probably have the speediest team in the Big Ten."

The Buckeye gateway isn't just to Texas. Meyer also signed a defensive lineman (Joey Bosa) and a wide receiver (James Clark) from Florida. A defensive lineman (Tyquan Lewis) from North Carolina. And a safety (Vonn Bell) and a linebacker (Trey Johnson) from Georgia.

It isn't the first time Ohio State has gone into Dixie for players, and not all these signees will be instant-impact freshmen. But it's no coincidence that a coach who thrived on Southern speed at Florida is going to go into his old stomping grounds in search of athletes good enough to compete with the best players in the Southeastern Conference.

Which increases the pressure on the rest of the Big Ten to keep up with a program that already has been ahead. The only school from the league to play for a national title in the last 15 years is Ohio State, three times, and it is clearly the top contender this year as well.

Right now, the only Big Ten school that can approximate what Meyer is doing in recruiting is Michigan, which is hauling in prospects at an impressive rate under Brady Hoke. But the Wolverines took a step back on the field in 2012, going 8-5 in a turnover-filled season and at least creating the impression of a considerable gap between them and the Buckeyes.

If the Wolverines can close that gap this season, the Nov. 30 meeting between the two at the Big House could be on par with some of the better games in the rivalry's storied history. And it could be one of the most meaningful Big Ten games since Ohio State and Michigan met ranked 1-2 in 2006.

Ohio State won that game 42-39 and swaggered into the national championship game a heavy favorite. The underdog was a Florida team coached by Urban Meyer, and it shocked the Buckeyes with overwhelming speed and athleticism all over the field.

That started the SEC's ongoing seven-year reign of terror over college football. Combined with LSU's thumping of the Buckeyes the following year in the title game, it also stamped Ohio State and the Big Ten as a ponderous, anachronistic and athletically inferior.

Urban Meyer came north to change all that, and he got off to a fast start in remaking the national power map last year. Now, with every Dontre Wilson he plucks from warm-weather states, the closer Ohio State comes to matching up with the SEC.

And the farther behind the rest of the Big Ten falls in its race to catch the Buckeyes.

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