On a recent Tuesday evening, downtrodden from a long day of work and an even longer stretch of Bay Area fog, I flipped on the tube and took a tour of my house’s DVR contents. As it were, my roommate, a Texas transplant and former high school quarterback, had recorded "ESPN All-Access: Ohio State Training Days" for the entire house to enjoy. It was ESPN’s collegiate spinoff on HBO’s ever popular “Hard Knocks”, and I was eager to find out what kind of motivational entertainment was in store. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. By the end of the documentary, I was about ready to put my beer down and run through a wall for Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.
This Saturday, at 9am PST, the California Golden Bears will head into football crazed Columbus, Ohio and do battle with the Buckeyes in front of a national television audience on ABC. If the show “Training Days” serves as any indication, the Bears will be encountering an angry sea of red that is ferociously hungry and desperate for success. The Horseshoe will be filled to the gills with raucous fans, all of which will be looking for blood in the water when Jeff Tedford and his troops set foot on Ohio soil.
Anyone who has followed college football over the last decade knows that Urban Meyer is a phenomenal football coach. Arguably, he is the best college football coach in the game today. In 2004, while at Utah, Meyer used Alex Smith as his quarterback to take a virtually unknown program to a 12-0 undefeated season. Meyer then moved on to Florida where he coached for six seasons. All he did there was win two National Championships in 2006 and 2008 with likes of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow leading his offenses.
What fewer people understand about Meyer is his uncontrollable obsession with the game of football. After losing in the SEC Championship game in 2009 to Alabama, Meyer was rushed to the hospital. Suffering from stress induced chest pains and dehydration, Meyer was so taxed by his quest to win it all that he was nearly having a heart attack. He quit for a few days after the incident, explaining that he needed to get healthy and spend time with his family. But sure enough, he was inevitably back inside the Florida coaches office by week's end. Since then, Meyer coached his final season at Florida, spent one year as a TV analyst, and finally found his way back to Ohio State, the place where he began his coaching life as a wide receivers coach back in 1986.
From the first whistle of “Training Days”, Urban Meyer’s unmatched passion for football comes pouring out of him. His main slogan for his players is to “bring the juice” at each and every moment of practice. Whenever he fears “the juice” is missing, Meyer lets his players know about it in a menacing, commander-in-chief type voice. He is also fond of the phrases “be a badass” and “be an angry football team”. High above the Ohio State workout facility, the phrase “Train Like an American Hero” is written for all to see upon entering.
“Training Days” makes it no secret that Urban Meyer runs his program like a tightly-knit military unit, always ready for any battle on the horizon. The 2012 version of the Buckeyes will not be eligible to play in a postseason bowl game, due to prior violations under coach Jim Tressel. All the more reason why Meyer’s ability to create such a high intensity training camp is so impressive. Meyer is so dedicated to the idea of having a close football team that he even has his players take naps together. During double-days, instead of having his team scatter for lunch in between practices, Meyer and his staff bought 70 air mattresses and sent his players into the weight room at noon and had them sleep on the floor for an hour together. The Ohio State weight room floor: Urban Meyer’s version of military barracks.
Even despite all the demands Meyer puts on his team of 18-22 year olds, “Training Days” depicts a team full of players that seem to love their football coach. If nothing else, the team respects Meyer for all the energy he puts into bringing his team to the top of the college football world. Unfortunately, Meyer has been known to let college football take over his life, with the quest of winning the national championship becoming all consuming. In the wake of Meyer’s physical breakdown at Florida and subsequent trip to the hospital, Meyer’s daughter Nicki requested that her dad sign a family contract promising that he stay healthy and well adjusted for the rest of his coaching career. Among the requests Urban had to sign for Nicki included such remedial tasks as “eating 3 meals a day” and “sleeping with the cell phone on silent”.
In Urban Meyer’s first two games at the helm in Columbus, his new team has defeated Miami of Ohio and Central Florida, both in impressive fashion. Meyer now will set his sights on the Golden Bears of Cal, a team who is in desperate need of a strong effort come Saturday. Bears’ coach Jeff Tedford, at one point credited with turning around the Cal football program, has now found himself on the the proverbial hot seat. His job security at its lowest level to date.
Tedford’s boom years saw Old Blues dawning tie dyed “Ted Head” shirts and the likes of Marshawn and DeSean running wild across the Old Memorial Stadium turf. His success earned him enough good faith to make what became a 321 Million Dollar stadium upgrade seem reasonable. But now, countless concerned eyes look to Tedford, wondering how long this stadium investment will take to generate a return.
It could very well be argued that Jeff Tedford and his staff have no reason to fear any team in the country. After all, the Bears are used to playing the likes of USC and Oregon year in and year out, both powerhouses in their own right, both ranked higher than Ohio State. That said, when Tedford scheduled this game with the Buckeyes, it was before he knew Urban Meyer would be his opponent. It was also before he knew Ohio State would be ineligible to play in a bowl game in 2012, making each regular season game, and the quest for Meyer to go undefeated all the more important.
Cal’s first two games this year have both been extremely disappointing. First, the Bears let Nevada spoil their long awaited homecoming with a 31-24 loss. Zach Maynard failed to start the game at quarterback because of a missed tutoring session over the summer, and the Bears never seemed to recover from their slow start. Cal followed this up with an uninspired victory over Southern Utah. In a game that was figured to be a blowout in favor of Berkeley, Cal committed 12 penalties and the contest was still up for grabs in the fourth quarter.
The fact of the matter is, the 2012 version of the Cal Bears are not a Rose Bowl contender. Barring something more miraculous than “The Play”, the 53 year Rose Bowl drought is going to tick one more spot to 54 by year's end. Yet, if Cal ever has dreams of getting back to the “Granddaddy of Them All”, they will have to find a way to rise to the level of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Come Saturday morning, Bear fans the world over will turn their eyes to a football mecca, Columbus, Ohio. As Cal chases their blue and gold flag out of the tunnel and onto the Horseshoe turf, Bear Backers won’t necessarily need a win in order to be satisfied. But one thing's for sure, the Bears better well bring some juice. We all know Urban Meyer will.