It can happen.
The right head coach can survive adversity and win a national championship. We saw that Monday night when Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State Buckeyes manhandled Oregon on their way to a 42-20 victory.
They did it with a third-string quarterback. They did it with a non-SEC roster. They did it even after many didn’t think they deserved a chance in the College Football Playoff.
The same team that laid an egg against Virginia Tech in early September went out and pummeled Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to win it all. And while it may have taken a coach like Meyer to officially kill the legend of the SEC, it’s worth looking at the blueprint Meyer established and use it to see how close — or how far — Brian Kelly and the Irish are away from the ultimate goal.
First, some debunking:
Meyer’s staff has former Kelly assistants Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton playing key roles. The same assistants who got blasted by some Irish fans. Warinner for being too soft, Hinton for being too small-timey. Strength coach Mickey Marotti? The same guy who was in charge of running the program at Notre Dame for Bob Davie and Ty Willingham has built the foundation of Meyer’s programs at Florida and Ohio State.
Then the rosters. Those stars propelling the Buckeyes to victory? Quite a few had Notre Dame offers. Left tackle Taylor Decker was a lock for South Bend until Meyer hired away Warinner and came calling. Ezekiel Elliot, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith? Joey Bosa and Vonn Bell? All recruited by Notre Dame. (Take a look at Notre Dame’s roster and you’ll see a large group of guys getting chased by Meyer, too, including the entire quarterback depth chart.)
Yet for all the similarities, there are some key differences. Quarterback Cardale Jones may be the story of the college football world today, but his path isn’t possible at Notre Dame. Not after getting stashed at military school (without his knowledge, seemingly), not after the boneheaded Tweet that will follow him for life. For every player with a Notre Dame offer, there’s a handful that couldn’t qualify. That’s life against just about every team on the Irish’s schedule, less Stanford or Northwestern.
Meyer proved on Monday night that he’s the top of his profession in the college game. And he also proved that since turning down a ride back to South Bend from Utah to take over the Irish program, he understood the challenges posed at Notre Dame are incredibly different than those at Florida or Ohio State. So for those still harping on Brian Kelly to get it together, at least Kelly accepted the challenge.
Both the Irish and the Buckeyes expect to field very good football teams next season. If Notre Dame is going to make it to the College Football Playoff, they’ll need their head coach to recalibrate the formula for winning — perhaps even taking a look at Meyer’s team. The one that played last night would be a reminder that a power running game in the spread can exist. The ones that played in Gainesville can give a blueprint to success with two quarterbacks, with Everett Golson more than capable of being Chris Leak and Malik Zaire running with the force and confidence of Tim Tebow.
For the Buckeyes, they’ll have to avoid the perils of success, a challenge Meyer didn’t conquer at Florida and one that forced Jim Tressel out of the job that Meyer now possesses. That’s easier said than done with 18-to-21-year olds, especially now that they’ve removed the gigantic chip from their shoulder that came with the Big Ten’s recent inferiority complex.
With the 2014 season officially finished, the college football world has leveled off quite a bit, with the SEC’s run of dominance officially over. With Meyer and now Jim Harbaugh all in Notre Dame’s backyard, the national perception may have changed but the local battles will begin.
Ohio State showed it was possible. A win over LSU was a good start. But after getting close in 2012, Kelly needs to show that he can do it again.