CHICAGO — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wears the role of his team again being favored to win the Big Ten like a familiar, tailored suit. He likes it.
“I think that’s a respect factor of the way we recruit and the way we develop players,” the Buckeyes’ sixth-year coach said Monday at the 46th Big Ten football preseason media days. “I’ll be disappointed if we’re not always up there. Ohio State should be in the top one or two or three.”
But he’s taking nothing for granted. The Buckeyes made it to the College Football Playoff last season before being thumped 31-0 by Clemson, and they also fell in the regular season to upstart Penn State, which went on to win the Big Ten championship game.
That OSU team was the youngest in major college football. This year, OSU has 15 starters returning, including fourth-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett and 2016 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Tyquan Lewis, who joined center Billy Price and linebacker Chris Worley, also seniors, in Chicago for the media blitz.
“It’s legit,” Lewis said of the expectations. “Why not make it a testimony? That’s what we think about it. But right now, we’re focusing on beating Indiana” in the season opener Aug. 31.
Meyer accepted the laurel of his team being declared the overwhelming favorite in the only poll on the matter, conducted by Cleveland.com of the major media members who cover the Big Ten. But he also said it’s a loaded league.
“I know one thing, that this is the best this conference has ever been since I’ve been around,” Meyer said. “And our division is ridiculous.”
He referred to the Big Ten East, where Michigan is in its third year under Jim Harbaugh, where Penn State stepped back up to elite status last season under James Franklin, and where Michigan State is expected to rebound after a down year and tough offseason. Then there is the rise of Maryland, which put together one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten under first-year coach D.J. Durkin.
“So you better bow up every week, or you’ll fail,” Meyer said.
When he arrived at OSU in 2012, the perception was that there was a major gap between the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, with the former looking up to the latter, where he had coached Florida to national championships in 2006 and 2008. Now Meyer, who led OSU to the 2014 national title, has a different view.
“I don’t think there’s any gap at all, and that’s no disrespect to other conferences,” he said. “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.”
Where the inroads have been strong for the Big Ten is in recruiting, he said.
“I feel there is 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.
“So there’s a lot of credit to be given to the administrations that invest in our programs and to the coaching staffs that are out there doing the work.”