Ohio State conquers an age-old question, coaching buddies square off and the Buckeyes come full circle

Colin Gay

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Today is Friday, Dec. 30, and this is your Ohio State Wake-Up Call. 

Something new

With Ohio State about to play in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl, it’s easy to forget how young the Buckeyes really are. Coach Urban Meyer is not one to let you forget.

“Almost half of our roster has never been to a bowl game,” Meyer said. “They are freshman and have never played in a bowl game.”

When it comes to the success of this team, it all comes down to the leadership of the older guys who have been in this situation before. As coach Meyer talked about, this is a mentality that has stuck with him in the various places he has been a head coach.

“Every time you hear the word success, I credit the guys next to me,” Meyer said. “We have very, very good players who care. I’ve had, not many, but every once and awhile, a few great players who don’t care, and that’s tough. When we start seeing Raekwon McMillan, Pat Elflein, J.T. Barrett, Malik Hooker, they are all great players and they care deeply about their team. We push team first, brotherhood of trust and other things, so I want to get a group of players that play very hard and get them to care about each other. That’s why we’ve got success.”


Head to Head: Coaches

All coaches in college football are connected. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer have developed a good relationship off the football field.

“I was a head coach at Utah and he was an assistant coach at Clemson,” Meyer said. “Tommy Bowden was the coach, and he sent his staff to spent three days with us. That was the first time we met. Phil Knight at Nike invites 15 to 20 coaches, every year, to get away. That’s when our relationship really got strong. Our wives are very good friends. It’s a very good relationship.”

Swinney’s path to the head coaching gig at Clemson is very different to Meyer’s at Ohio State. After playing at and becoming an assistant coach at Alabama, Swinney became the wide receivers coach at Clemson in 2002. After eight seasons as an assistant coach and a top recruiter for the Tigers, he became the interim head coach in 2008 after head coach Tommy Bowden resigned after six games.

Since then, Swinney has become one of the best coaches in college football, turning Clemson into a powerhouse. Since he took over for Bowden, he has a record of 87-28, leading the Tigers to three ACC championships and four wins in his last five bowl games. Before this season started, the 2015 Paul “Bear” Bryant Award winner signed a six-year extension to continue to be the head coach at Clemson.

While Swinney stayed at Clemson for the majority of his coaching career, Meyer bounced around a bit. As a head coach at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-present), he has a record of 165-28, with five conference championships and three national championships, including one at Ohio State.

Meyer’s coaching career is well respected across the NCAA.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Meyer and the way they do things,” Swinney said.

Swinney respects the Ohio State coach so much that he is trying to get an extra step ahead using his own words.

“I told him I was reading his book and got him to sign it for me,” Swinney said.

We will see which tenured coach, the pizza loving coach from Birmingham, Ala., or the coach who is sixth in career winning percentage, will prevail Dec. 31.


Illinois looking to recover 

Another Ohio State team has an important game to prepare for on Jan. 1. The Buckeyes (10-3) will begin the Big Ten season on the road against Illinois (10-4, 0-1 in Big Ten) to start the new year. However, the Fighting Illini have already had a rude awakening in conference play with an 84-59 loss to Maryland on Dec. 27.

As a team, Illinois scores 78.4 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Fighting Illini are plus 4.6 on the rebounding margin and minus 0.8 in turnover margin.

When it comes to points and rebounds for Illinois, it is most likely to come from one player. Guard Malcolm Hill leads the team with 18.6 points per game, shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from beyond the arc. Hill is also tied with forward Leon Black averaging 6.4 rebounds per game.

As for some of the flaws, Illinois has allowed 82 steals this season and have six fewer blocks than its opponents. That’s one of the advantages Maryland had on them with two more steals and four more blocks than Illinois in the conference opener for both teams. Then again, the Fighting Illini just struggled offensively, shooting 18.2 percent from the 3-point line (4 of 22).

We will see if Illinois has recovered Sunday when Ohio State, who has not played since Dec. 22,  comes to town. The game will be at 7 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.

It’s not over yet

As 2017 draws near, Ohio State is not done writing its success story for 2016. Here is a look at how the Buckeyes got to this point.

The Buckeyes started the year off with a bang, defeating Notre Dame, 44-28, in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. The year that began with dominance turned to uncertainty after 12 Buckeyes were taken in the first four rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.

However, with the breakout performances by safety Malik Hooker and the rest of the Ohio State defense early on, helped by one memorable catch by wide receiver Noah Brown, that uncertainty became excitement going into Big Ten play.

That was until Oct. 22, when No. 2 Ohio State was stunned by Penn State, 24-21, after the Nittany Lions outscored the Buckeyes 17-0 in the fourth quarter. At that point, all Ohio State fans knew that the Buckeyes’ season would come down to one game. The Game.

In what proved to be one of the best college football games in 2016, the Buckeyes, capped off by Curtis Samuel’s 15 yard touchdown run, defeated Michigan, 30-27, in double overtime to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.

As Meyer ends his year where he started it, a lot more is on the line. The real question is this: When 2017 starts, will his football team be packing for Columbus or Tampa?


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