Big Ten

Urban Meyer: Big Ten is 'night and day what it was' when he took over at Ohio State

The Big Ten finally got a heaping helping of national respect last season, when three of the conference's teams finished in the top six of the final College Football Playoff rankings.

It had been a bit of a challenge in previous seasons — and not always without merit — for the league to get talked about in the same way the national media loves talking about the SEC. But now the conference boasts some of the healthiest programs in college football and some of the most attention-grabbing head coaches in the sport.

Certainly Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes fall into those categories. But Ohio State is joined in the highest levels of national conversation by Jim Harbaugh's Michigan program and Paul Chryst's stellar work at Wisconsin. That's without mentioning the reigning conference champion Penn State Nittany Lions and Mark Dantonio's oft-contending Michigan State program.

With the Big Ten now annually having several national championship-caliber teams, Meyer can't help but notice how the league and the league's status has changed since he took the head-coaching gig in Columbus ahead of the 2012 season.

"It's night and day what it was," Meyer told CSN's Pat Boyle at Monday's Golf.Give.Gala in St. Charles, hosted by Michael Phelps and Jason Day. "And I was actually shocked at the disrespect and the lack of respect that the Big Ten had. I never looked at that. I grew up here.

"There's a lot of reasons why that's happened. The schools have hired very good coaches, the recruiting is off the chart now compared to the way it used to be. There's a lot of credit. And you better show up every week now, and it wasn't that way when I first got there in 2012."

Meyer's Buckeyes are again expected to be in the championship hunt this fall after reaching the College Football Playoff in two of the past three seasons and winning the whole thing to cap the 2014 campaign.

Certainly, though, the conference's powerhouses aren't the only programs that have contributed to the league's health as a whole. Coaching hires since Meyer got to Ohio State include former NFL head coaches in Lovie Smith and Mike Riley, as well as high-profile up-and-comers like James Franklin and P.J. Fleck.

Add those names to the already-existing leaders like Meyer, Dantonio and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, and the coaching is as strong as any conference in the country.