It made perfect sense. Coming off a 12-0 season, the storyline was that Ohio State was bringing in a top-rated recruiting class that could help chase down the Crimson Tide, winners of three of four national championships. One reporter even went as far as to ask Meyer if his program had declared war on Alabama.
"No, absolutely not," Meyer said at that time. "We have one rival, and that rival has been dictated many, many years ago."
So it was perhaps some irony that one year later, there was a school from the Wolverine State that everybody was discussing on NSD 2014 – except they don't wear winged helmets.
It was Michigan State, and again it made sense. Not only did the Spartans – featuring a staff filled with former Ohio State players and coaches – end the Buckeyes' school-record winning streak and knock them from the national championship game in December in the Big Ten title game, the two schools found themselves going toe-to-toe in the recruiting wars as well.
Darius Slade, the New Jersey recruit the Buckeyes got a signed letter of intent from on National Signing Day despite the fact he never visited campus? He was a Michigan State commit before that. Jamarco Jones, the star offensive line recruit for the Buckeyes who was the only target that made a last-weekend visit? He was in East Lansing last weekend. Malik McDowell, the five-star target left on OSU's board going into signing day? He picked the Spartans, though he still hasn't signed an NLI as his family continues to agonize over the decision.
So again, this line of questioning made sense, and Meyer was more than happy to oblige this time around when it came to discussing the Green and White.
"They're real, and I think they've always been real," Meyer said. "I've got a lot of respect for the way they do their business and that's an adversary. That's one of our teams we're nose-to-nose with right now in recruiting. We don't win them all because I know we lost a couple, too. But that's a real battle right now."
But what does it mean that one year after talking national championships that the discussion about the Buckeye recruiting class was about winning conference crowns?
To me, that's good news, and that's related to the rise to national prominence that Michigan State made this past year. The win over Ohio State and ensuing Rose Bowl victory against highly rated Stanford jumped the Spartans to No. 3 in the final national polls and obviously helped on the recruiting circuit as well, where the team is ranked 19th in the nation if McDowell eventually does sign.
That's a pretty big jump from a year ago when, coming off a 7-6 season, Mark Dantonio's squad finished 45th in the country and sixth in the Big Ten. Being in the running with Ohio State – and even beating the Buckeyes for a five-star recruit, if Southfield, Mich., native McDowell does become a Spartan – shows just how much progress Dantonio has made with his program in one season. A program that has hit the national radar as much for its development of players as its recruiting prowess over the past few years now appears to have both sides of the coin rolling.
Two big wins against nationally elite programs like OSU and Stanford also show how the Spartans can compete on the field, too. Michigan State winning games like that did nothing but help the downtrodden Big Ten, showing that there is enough talent in the Midwest to go around for the league to have multiple teams worthy of competing at the highest level.
There's no doubt the Big Ten continues to struggle at times when it comes to recruiting. The league was better at keeping top 100 prospects around than in the past, but it still lost a healthy percentage of its Scout 300 players to other places – and didn't replace them with highly rated talent from other places, too.
But Michigan State – not to mention Michigan and Penn State – provide reason to think the league could be in good shape going forward. With less than a month to work, new Penn State head coach James Franklin put together a top-25 class – and looks as though he'll be a force to be reckoned with in 2015. Michigan's class was small and missed out on many top targets, but the Wolverines were in Scout's top five each of the last two years.
On top of it, all four of those teams are in the new East Division as well, meaning Ohio State will be playing each of them going forward.
The Big Ten isn't going to be the SEC anytime soon. But it should be good enough to provide the challenge necessary for the Buckeyes to be a playoff-ready outfit.
This fall, the Buckeyes learned how hard it is, again, to win their own conference. But winning tougher battles on the field and on the recruiting trail will bring the program's ultimate goal into even closer view.
Even if it's not talked about on National Signing Day.