CHICAGO — I wonder if Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany counts his blessings at night, thankful to have Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer in the conference simultaneously.
It's serious fun — emphasis on both words — and shouldn't be taken for granted.
Harbaugh, the second-year Michigan football coach, makes you smile and sometimes cringe with his off-the-cuff and often blunt viewpoints regarding football and life in general.
Meyer is the straight man. He doesn't mince words.
He packed a wallop Tuesday during Big Ten Media Days.
The fifth-year Ohio State coach said his staff "has to find a way to replace arguably one of the best groups of players ever to come through college football.
"They won 50 games, they won a national title," he said. "They had the highest graduation rate in the history of Ohio State University and a record NFL Draft (with 12 players selected, including five among the top 20). So, I've been answering a lot of questions about a young team.
"The issue would be if it was a nontalented young team. And that's not the case at all."
Meyer, 50-4 at the school, was just getting warmed up. He described August as "probably the most critical coaching month" he's encountered in 30-plus years in the college game.
"Forty-four of our players, which is over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game," he told a hotel ballroom full of reporters. "So, we have to get them ready."
Suffice it to say Meyer means business.
Doesn't he always?
Another question: Can Ohio State really challenge for a national championship with only eight returning starters (counting the kicker and punter)? Lindy’s season-preview magazine ranks the Buckeyes fourth in the nation, and nobody is calling Lindy crazy.
Meyer expects no drop-off in his program, nor does starting quarterback J.T. Barrett.
"There's a certain standard at Ohio State," Barrett said. "You either buy it, or you're not with us."
Meyer puts it another way: Ohio State is no place to relax. No place to settle for second. His formula works — most of the time, anyway. The 52-year-old Ohio native went undefeated at Utah in 2004. He won two national championships at Florida (2006, 2008), then won all the marbles at Ohio State in 2014 before ending up 12-1 last year.
Since taking over at OSU, he's 31-1 in regular-season Big Ten play. Yes, Osborne-esque numbers.
Even so, Meyer showed up here with all the hunger of a rookie head coach — yet with the wisdom of one of the college game's all-time best. With due respect to 64-year-old Nick Saban, there isn't a college coach I would pick ahead of Meyer — not in this moment in time.
Then again, you always wonder if the ultra-intense Meyer can avoid fizzling out. You wonder if he can maintain a healthy life balance.
"You have to embrace the grind," he said. "I hear the word 'chill.' You'll never hear that at our place."
If Meyer does maintain balance, or at least something approaching it, the Buckeye beast will continue to feast, and Harbaugh will be brought down a peg or two.
That said, Meyer does face an enormous challenge this season with all those fresh faces, and all that pressure that accompanies playing at The Ohio State. That's what Meyer called it: The Ohio State.
Last season, The Ohio State felt the weight of trying to repeat as national champion. Buckeye fans were up-in-arms if the team went three-and-out, such were the ridiculous expectations. Remember those days, Nebraska fans?
"We knew we had all this talent and at times we should have beat teams — let's be real — by 30 points, but we didn't," Barrett said. "Learning from that, there definitely needs to be times this year when it's like, ‘OK, we won. Let's relax our shoulders and enjoy it for a little bit.'"
Meyer wondered aloud how all his inexperienced players will react Sept. 3 against Bowling Green "to running out into the Shoe in front of 110,000 people. And the good thing is at Ohio State, we already had the 100,000 people for a spring game."
Pressure escalates in August. Meyer said the challenge next month will be trying to put new players in game-like situations — say, third-and-6 at full speed — while still keeping the team healthy. He's also mindful that many young players are shocked by the level of intensity in preseason camp, having never experienced it.
"That stuff is what is keeping me awake," Meyer said.
He’ll likely be OK, if you know what I mean. After all, strength coach Mickey Marotti’s reports on the team’s offseason workouts are glowing.
“He's not sure he's ever seen a team like this,” Meyer said.
Even though it lost a truckload of talent, Ohio State was the overwhelming choice to win the Big Ten in cleveland.com’s annual preseason poll. Talk about respect. The Buckeyes got the nod over Michigan, which returns 14 starters, and Michigan State, last year’s champion.
Only one of 39 writers in the poll picked Michigan State to repeat.
With Harbaugh in the fold, Mark Dantonio gets shuffled into the background — yet another example of life’s unfairness.
Thing is, this Meyer-Harbaugh dynamic is about as interesting as gets.
By the way, Michigan faces Ohio State on Nov. 26 in Columbus, in case anyone was wondering.
“It's a rivalry, and everyone knows how we treat that rivalry at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “It’s very serious. It's there every day. Are we going to be ready?”
That depends on the health and development of his team, he said.
It’ll be developed well. You can bank on that.
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