CHICAGO — There’s usually less to be taken from what coaches and players say at Big Ten Media Days than there is from how they say it and how many are listening.
Using those metrics, there’s no doubt who remains the big dog of the Big Ten Conference.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and the three players he brought with him to Chicago — defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, offensive lineman Billy Price and defensive back Chris Worley — were the stars of the show at the McCormick Place Hyatt on Thursday as the conference kicked off its 46th edition of media days.
After taking questions for 15 minutes in the main media area, Meyer spent another hour answering questions in a smaller setting as reporters from nearly every outlet in the league crowded around, jostling for position on the tips of their toes as Meyer spoke in hushed, even tones about everything from his special teams to the strength of the league as a whole.
The attention, certainly, was warranted. While the Big Ten doesn’t release an official preseason poll, the Buckeyes were the runaway favorites in a poll of the conference’s media conducted by Cleveland.com.
It’s been that way since Meyer arrived in Columbus in late 2011. And despite the rise of the conference as a whole, it’s Ohio State that still carries the flag.
“Hard to imagine how time flies,” Meyer said in his opening remarks.
Even with Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz among the coaches who spoke Thursday (the other half of the league, including Nebraska’s Mike Riley, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Minnesota’s PJ Fleck get their turn Tuesday), Meyer clearly garnered the most attention in the breakout media sessions.
It was the same when his players took their positions an hour or so later.
“It’s like, every year it’s the same sort of question: ‘You’re losing some guys, how do you replace them?'” said Worley, a senior linebacker with 39 starts under his belt. “And year after year he just continues to show how he recruits and how the coaching staff and the leaders on the team build young players and mold them into the guys you see on Saturdays.”
Indeed, the culture Meyer has built at Ohio State seeps through his players.
“Nobody’s afraid of anything,” said Lewis, the 2016 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year.
Lewis was talking specifically about the Buckeyes’ defensive line. He might as well have been talking about the entire program.
It’s part of the machine Meyer has built as he enters his sixth season in Columbus.
There weren’t many smiles, though Meyer and his players were polite and professional.
Well, there was one grin. Sort of.
It came when Meyer recalled the last time he coached against Nebraska in Lincoln, in the early 1990s as a wide receivers coach at Colorado State.
The Rams came to Lincoln twice during Meyer’s time in Fort Collins, losing 71-14 in 1991 and 48-13 in 1993.
“We got our butts kicked. It was one of these,” Meyer said, making a swatting motion with his right hand. “I know it’s a great place, one of the top-10 places to play historically, and we better be ready. I remember the fans clapping for us after they just beat us to death.”
Ohio State’s last visit to Memorial Stadium, when Nebraska rallied from a 27-6 deficit for a 34-27 win in 2011, came about six weeks before the Buckeyes hired Meyer as head coach.
The Buckeyes have been looking down from atop the league ever since.
“Ohio State is always going to be there. I mean, it should be one of the top schools in our conference,” Meyer said. “And other than that, I think that’s just respect for our players, respect that we recruited some good players, and means no consequence at all in how we go about our business.”