Beating The Best In Meyer's Mind

Being the best was on Urban Meyer's mind when he got to Ohio State, and that bar has been set by Alabama after three national championships in four years. After having served as an analyst for the BCS title game Monday and seeing the Crimson Tide up close, Meyer has his sights on competing with college football's elite.

With his team out of the postseason picture because of a postseason ban, Urban Meyer had plenty of time this college football bowl season.

The Ohio State head coach told ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" that he and his staff had a chance to kick back and enjoy a full slate of New Year's Day games, including five Big Ten contests.

Then Meyer hopped on a plane for Glendale, Ariz., where he watched Oregon beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl while promoting his December appearance as a guest coach at a flag football game for returning American soldiers.

The big trip, though, was last Monday night when Meyer took in the national championship game in Miami and served as a pregame, halftime and postgame analyst for the ESPN's national TV broadcast.

Along the way, Meyer got to see the current standard of college football – Alabama, which drubbed Notre Dame, 42-14, to win its third championship in four years – as well as some of the other top programs in the sport.

Don't think he wasn't taking notes. When asked Friday if he and his staff actively set chasing the Crimson Tide as a goal, the coach had a quick answer.

"24/7, every second of our life," he said. "I won't say just catch (Alabama), but I just told you, A&M beat them and I've watched that game a bunch. I went and watched Oregon vs. Kansas State. Those are two of the finest programs in America. We have to go catch them. Everybody is trying to go catch the best, and some people are probably trying to catch us.

"I would say there's things that coaches really dislike and there's other things that coaches really love and savor, and there's nothing else I'd rather do than watch these other programs and kind of figure out, how do we get to that or do that or how do we beat that?"

It's fair to say Meyer is good at diagnosing what it takes to get to the top, given the two national championships he won at Florida and the four BCS bowls he's captured with both Florida and Utah.

But when it comes to getting to the top and dethroning Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, the question must be asked, how far away are the Buckeyes after posting a 12-0 season and No. 3 ranking in the final AP poll?

Meyer, who knows the Buckeyes made great strides in his first year yet is also aware more steps must be taken, offered up an opinion on that topic to reporters.

"Where are we?" he said. "I don't like to deal in speculation. I think we're a very good team that can compete with any team in the country. I didn't feel that way early in the year or even the middle of the year, but the last game, I even said that (we could compete) after the season. That's where I believe we are.

"To say we can roll in there and beat a team like (Alabama), first I don't want to speculate, but if I was to give you an honest answer, right now, I think we have too many holes to fill."

Among areas of improvement, Meyer would likely want to see his defense put together a complete season after early struggles. Ohio State was near the bottom of the Big Ten in defense before ranking second in the nation in yards allowed in November, and the Buckeyes must now replace seven senior starters from the stop troops with younger players in 2013.

The offense also needs to see improved consistency, especially in the passing game, where Ohio State finished 101st in the country. The Buckeyes often turned to Braxton Miller, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting, when in trouble, but the quarterback still has growth to do having finished just his sophomore season.

On either side of the ball – and when it comes to special teams, where the Buckeyes ceded blocked kicks and multiple touchdowns in 2012 – Meyer sees improvements that must be made, especially in the realm of playing fundamental football.

"I was fortunate enough to be at the championship game, and I think probably the best fundamental team that I have certainly seen this year won that game," Meyer said. "That's with leverage, blocking, tackling, and all the things that are how you win football games."

The future is bright, though, in a lot of ways. Miller still retains two years of eligibility, and the Buckeyes have put together a recruiting class for 2013 that currently ranks third in the country in Scout's ratings, five spots ahead of Alabama.

The competition could also be getting tougher in the Big Ten, which could help the Buckeyes' cause in future seasons when college football shifts to a playoff. Though much maligned in recent years, the Big Ten boasts eight schools in Scout's current recruiting top 40 including Michigan (1) and Nebraska (12).

Meyer was quick to point out that Alabama lost to Texas A&M this season in SEC play and nearly dropped contests at LSU and vs. Georgia in the conference title game, games that showed not only the SEC's strengths but just how battle-tested the Crimson Tide was by the end of the season.

In the meantime, Meyer knows a lot can happen between now and the 2013 national championship, which is just a shade under 12 months away. Even thinking about getting to the top of the mountain, where Alabama currently resides, seems like a faraway goal for Meyer.

"That's like talking about, we have to go fly to the moon," Meyer said. "We're nowhere near even having that conversation. … We just have to win our first game."

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