NEW ORLEANS - When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State, he vowed to bring an SEC blueprint to Columbus.
After three seasons in the Big Ten, Meyer's blueprint has the Buckeyes one win away from the national championship game.
But what exactly is an "SEC blueprint?" The Buckeyes boasted a raucous 100,000-seat crowd, massive athletic department budget and state of the art facilities well before Meyer showed up in town. In fact, lots of schools outside of the infamous SEC have these things.
What truly separates the conference that claims eight of the last nine national titles from the rest of college football is recruiting and developing elite defensive lines. Just ask Tom Brady and the nearly perfect 2007 New England Patriots about how a dominant defensive line can stop even the mightiest of offenses.
With the help of Big Ten lifer Larry Johnson Sr., Meyer assembled arguably the best defensive line in the nation. Ohio State lured the former Penn State defensive line coach to Columbus this year, and, on Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl, will attempt to administer to the SEC a heavy dose of its own medicine by stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Thanks to Johnson's leadership and guidance, the fearsome foursome of Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Steve Miller give Ohio State the necessary pieces to finish what the '06 and '07 Buckeyes couldn't.
"We've progressed so much as a D-Line and it's all thanks to Coach Johnson," Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa said. "It says a lot about how he's brought us closer together. We are much closer as a unit and play much harder for each other. That's the biggest difference."
Bosa, a 6-foot-5, 278-pound sophomore defensive end from Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, dominated the Big Ten, leading the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.0) by a wide margin. But he came "really close" to wearing a much different shade of red this week in New Orleans.
"I was actually about to commit to Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I was so young and it was getting into my head, so I just took my time and went through the process," Bosa reminisced about his recruitment. He instead landed in Columbus and now leads a collection of elite D-Liners that will have to stop the Crimson Tide's vaunted rushing attack to win a national title.
Winning that type of recruiting battle for a highly-coveted prospect from deep within SEC territory is what defines Meyer's gameplan for building a champion. In fact, all four starting defensive linemen were elite prospects with long offer sheets from all across the nation.
Tackles Michael Bennett, a 6-foot-2, 288-pound senior, and Adolphus Washington, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior, anchor the middle while Steve Miller, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior, plays opposite of Bosa. According to 247Sports, Bennett was the No. 6 defensive tackle prospect in the nation in 2011, Washington was the No. 2 weakside defensive end in the nation in '12 and Miller was the No. 4 weakside end in the nation in '11.
All the talented group needed was a little push from a guy who's been around the game longer than Joey Bosa has been alive.
"During spring ball, Coach Johnson asked why we don't ever celebrate together," Washington said. "As spring ball went along, you could see it on film that everyone was so much more hyped for the next guy than for themselves because Coach Johnson and Coach Meyer put a big emphasis on it.
"Be happier and willing to do more for the next person than for yourself. That brought us together more as a team and defensive line. At the end of the day, you need all four of us to get the job done," finished Washington.
Get the job done they have. The foursome helped Ohio State finish sixth nationally and tops in the Big Ten in sacks (40.0). The Buckeyes also led the league in tackles for a loss as one of only eight teams in the nation to post at least 100 tackles for a loss.
"They are one of the best defensive lines we've seen," said Alabama offensive tackle Austin Shepherd. "All four of their defensive linemen are great players. On the outside, they have two guys who can really get up the field and put pressure on the quarterback. On the inside, they've got two guys that can wreak havoc."
When talent comes together with coaching, great things can happen. It appears that is what this deep collection of elite prospects and Coach Johnson has accomplished. This unit believes in one another but has also taken to coaching and it reminds Bama of the what it normally sees in the SEC.
"They're very technically sound and don't make many mistakes," the Tide's star running back T.J. Yeldon said. "They remind me of Florida, Arkansas and ourselves because they don't make any mistakes."
Talented, motivated, well-coached, disciplined and experienced sounds like a good recipe for success against a team that has played in three of the last five national championship games.
"We see Ohio State as a great defense," Alabama veteran center Ryan Kelly said. "We've been studying them for a couple of weeks and they look a lot like the teams we play in the SEC. They have a lot of great athletes and their defensive line coach has done a tremendous job."
Meyer landed in the Big Ten knowing he needed to win the line of scrimmage if he wanted to return Ohio State to the top of college football. He's recruited at an elite level, hired one of the top coaches in the business to develop that talent and is now faced with the exact challenge most college football fans have been waiting for since he announced his return to a collegiate sideline.
The world will find out Thursday night if his blueprint will work.