Urban Meyer still keeps in touch with his former Bowling Green players. He spent only two seasons as head coach of the Falcons and has since risen to fame as a three-time national championship winner — twice with the Florida Gators and once with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The 2001 and 2002 seasons, his first as a head coach, still resonate with Meyer as much as all the rest, though, and they’ll be on his mind at noon Saturday when Ohio State opens the season against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium.
“I’m still extremely close with those players,” Meyer said Monday. “We had a little reunion up there last year, a fundraiser, and a lot of guys will show up at practice still.”
Meyer called his time at Bowling Green, which finished 8-3 in 2001 and 9-3 in 2002, a neat experience because there were zero expectations.
“Obviously, you don’t experience that much anymore,” he said. “I remember one of those preseason magazines came out, and we were 119th or something like that. I thought, ‘You have got to be (kidding) me,’ when I saw that. I didn’t know there were 119 teams. I posted that in the weight room. I was a 36-year-old coaching trying to get a team motivated that was ranked preseason 119th. The good thing is we did not finish 119th.”
The Falcons made an immediate statement in Meyer’s first game, upsetting Missouri 20-13 on the road. Entering that game, the Falcons hadn’t had a winning season since 1994. They hadn’t won a non-conference road game to open the season since 1983. They lost their first three games the previous season by a combined score of 107-37. At the time, Meyer was the second-youngest coach in Division I.
“I think 50 some players made the travel team,” Meyer said. “We were allowed to take 70. We didn’t have 70 players.”
Meyer’s wife Shelley told him the night before the game they would beat Missouri. Meyer told her, “We have no freaking chance.”
But Meyer said, “Something happened in the middle of the night. I remember waking up, and our staff and our players thought they’d win it, and they did.”
Meyer turned Bowling Green’s program around. In the last 13 seasons, the Falcons have finished with a winning record nine times. They have played in eight bowl games in that span and won the Mid-American Conference championship last season, finishing 10-4.
The Buckeyes are 27½-point favorites Saturday, but Bowling Green is no pushover. The Falcons have defeated three Big Ten teams — Indiana, Maryland and Purdue — in the last two seasons. They return four starters on offense and six on defense.
“When I think about Bowling Green, it’s one of the most tradition-rich programs in the MAC,” Meyer said. “I have a lot of great respect for them. I loved my time there, and there’s a lot of great people there.”