ARLINGTON, Texas - Confetti was still flying in AT&T Stadium when a big-picture realization hit Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith about the school winning a football national championship.

ARLINGTON, Texas - Confetti was still flying in AT&T Stadium when a big-picture realization hit Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith about the school winning a football national championship.

OSU had not only brought joy to itself on Monday by defeating Oregon 42-20, but also had patched the psyche of its Big Ten conference after a decade of national bashing.

"Our conference has been downtrodden for so long," Smith said. "Now, here we are, we've won a championship. It just means so much to a lot of different people at a lot of different levels."

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Ohio State coach Urban Meyer acknowledged yesterday what his team's victory meant for the Big Ten, which hadn't won a national title in football since the Buckeyes' undefeated 2002 season.

"Oh, I think it's huge," Meyer said. "Football is cyclical. ... I still think, top to bottom, we have some work to do in our conference, but it's moving."

OSU's win over Oregon in the finale of the first College Football Playoff capped a postseason in which the Big Ten enjoyed several image-boosting victories and high-profile coaching hires at Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

"It's been really important for us and good for us," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "In some ways, it sort of pushes the reset button. It gives us a chance to clear the slate a little bit.

"We've got great coaches in our league. We've got great players. ... We're not without talented teams."

The Buckeyes advanced to the national championship game with a Sugar Bowl upset of No. 1 Alabama, college football's recent king from the pacesetting SEC.

That same day, Michigan State came back to defeat No. 5 Baylor of the Big 12 in the Cotton Bowl, and, in the Outback Bowl, Wisconsin beat Auburn, an SEC team that had lost in last season's final BCS title game.

Besides those wins, the Big Ten also garnered national headlines when slumping giant Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL to coach the Wolverines.

"With Jim Harbaugh, I think there's been maybe as much buzz with a coaching hire as I've ever seen in 25 years in the Big Ten," Delany said.

It's Meyer, however, who drew praise from Delany for pushing the Big Ten forward by going 38-3 since taking over OSU in 2011.

"He's really a master coach," Delany said. "I think he brought a certain mindset to Ohio State. Anybody who has success - I don't care if it's Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Joe Paterno, Urban Meyer or Nick Saban - it forces everybody's competitive position to get stronger. It has to. Competition begets competition."

Meyer, who won two national titles for the SEC at Florida, notices a different mindset setting in among his Big Ten opponents.

"I see a lot of aggressive approaches, which is what you have to be," Meyer said. "I think the days are done when it's sit back. I see a lot of aggressive recruiting and some really good stuff going on in our conference. I'm a huge fan. I was cheering like mad for Wisconsin (against Auburn) because I just thought it legitimizes everything that these guys did."

Meyer started a run of seven consecutive BCS championships for the SEC when he led the Gators to an upset over then-No. 1 Ohio State at the end of the 2006 season.

OSU lost in the BCS championship again the following season to LSU, and the Big Ten has endured national criticism ever since for high-profile non-conference losses.

"You've been told you've been bad for so long, at times the psychologist part of it takes over," Meyer said. "You start believing you're not very good, and that's not true at all. It's the same thing with the quality of football.

"High-school football players in the North and the Midwest, they're great. Is the quantity a little bit lesser? Sure, the quantity is, but not the quality. The quality is outstanding, and I think that was a testimony of what happened in that game, the last few games."

Those postseason wins had Delany feeling encouraged even before OSU defeated Oregon.

"I think one year is one year," Delany said in an interview prior to kickoff on Monday. "We'll take it. I really like the trajectory that we're on. I like our coaches. I like the mindset. I really like the on-field performance.

"We had a great conference race. We had a very good bowl season. If we could win tonight, that would certainly put an exclamation point on it. But I think, going forward, you have to stop and think that a lot of people can play, including a lot of teams in the Big Ten."

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones