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Is the Big Ten better? Urban Meyer says yes; we say not yet

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have it going on now. Can anybody catch them? (Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

Urban Meyer probably sent chills down a lot of fans’ spines when he declared after Ohio State’s College Football Playoff victory over Alabama at the Sugar Bowl: “Maybe the Big Ten is not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damned good. And it’s certainly getting better.”

Like the rest of us, Meyer has heard and read more knocks against the Big Ten in recent years than he could count. Wherever it unofficially rated among major-college conferences, it was miles behind the SEC and, some would attest, on the wrong side of the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, too. Meyer called the disrespect “exhausting.”

“We’re a bunch of good coaches and players that work their tails off and are investing a lot of resources into these traditionally great programs,” he said.

Coming from Meyer — more lone wolf than league-oriented guy — the comments were nice to hear. The truth, though, is that the Big Ten hasn’t really gotten better yet. The Buckeyes have hit the next level, obviously. Michigan promises to improve under new coach Jim Harbaugh, but right now the Wolverines are behind a pack of second-tier league programs that includes Michigan State, Wisconsin and, well, that might be it. The Spartans, even with their bowl victory over Baylor, were significantly better in 2013 than they were this season. The Badgers — need we remind you? — lost 59-0 to Ohio State and now must move on without record-setting running back Melvin Gordon and with a new coach, Paul Chryst, who has hardly proved himself. Their overtime win over a disappointing Auburn team doesn’t equal true progress.

Where are the rest of the league’s supposedly improving programs? Nebraska has a new coach, Mike Riley, who’s no sure thing to be as successful as Bo Pelini, let alone be an upgrade. Iowa — the most disappointing Big Ten team outside of Michigan — was spanked by Tennessee 45-28 Friday to finish 7-6. Penn State won seven games and a bowl but was 2-6 in conference play.

The Big Ten will only truly change for the better if the rest of its programs take aim at Meyer and Ohio State and raise their own games dramatically in the process. That was the effect Meyer had on the SEC when he was at Florida. It can happen in the Big Ten, too, but so far it’s merely hypothetical.

Quick slants

1. I’m seeing that seven-point spread in the national championship game and trying to make any sense of it at all. Can I just remind everybody what Ohio State did in its last two games? First, it hung 59 on Wisconsin while shutting the Badgers out. Then, it outscored Ala-freaking-bama 36-7 after falling behind by two touchdowns in the first half. How the team that did those things isn’t at least as dangerous as Oregon is beyond me.

2. The Buckeyes turned out to be more like Alabama than Alabama is. They punished the Tide in the running game, won the battles up front defensively and played with unwavering confidence. It sounds crazy, but both OSU and Oregon play faster defensively than Alabama did this season.

3. Florida State’s Jameis Winston hinted at a return to school following the Rose Bowl beating the Seminoles took from Oregon. Many around college football reacted to that with an instant eye roll, but I wouldn’t put anything past Winston. With him, FSU probably would be a top-three team heading into next season.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg