When you’re successful enough, pretty much every loss you suffer is memorable.
In late 2000, looking for a creative spark after bottoming out under Gary Blackney, Bowling Green turned to Bob Davie’s receivers coach at Notre Dame, a little-known 36-year-old named Urban Meyer.
The former Cincinnati defensive back had as unassuming a résumé as you’ll ever see. He had spent two years as an Ohio State graduate assistant under Earle Bruce, two years as an assistant at Illinois State, and six years at Colorado State under Bruce and replacement Sonny Lubick.
There’s a solid coaching lineage there, and he was clearly a good receivers coach if he got the call-up to Notre Dame. But this hire did not move the needle all that much.
Nearly 17 years later, it’s a memorable occasion any time Meyer loses. In his 16th season as a head coach, he’s only done it 31 times.
He went 17-6 in two years at Bowling Green, then 22-2 in two at Utah. He won national titles in his second and fourth seasons at Florida, then burned out in his sixth year and “retired.” He showed up in Columbus to succeed Jim Tressel and added a third national title.
He has won five conference titles and won or tied for five other division titles, and he has lost more than three games in a season just twice.
Ranking a coach’s losses is the ultimate tribute; it means you don’t do it much, and it means you’ve likely won a lot in the process. We did it with Nick Saban’s Bama losses this summer (and haven’t yet had a reason to update that list), and now we’ll go one step further: let’s rank all of Meyer’s head coaching losses.
31. Miami (Ohio) 24, Bowling Green 21 (2001)
30. Western Michigan 37, Bowling Green 28 (2001)
29. Marshall 37, Bowling Green 31 (2001)
28. Toledo 42, Bowling Green 24 (2002)
27. South Florida 29, Bowling Green 7 (2002)
26. Texas A&M 28, Utah 26 (2003)
Meyer’s two seasons in Bowling Green were successful, featuring two wins over Gary Pinkel’s Missouri, a 43-42 upset of Northwestern in 2001, a 39-16 romp over Kansas, and an 8-0 start (and a rise to 20th in the polls) in 2002. But his Falcons were still hit-or-miss in 2001, and after finally suffering a loss in 2002, they followed it with a couple more.
25. Northern Illinois 26, No. 20 Bowling Green 17 (2002)
24. New Mexico 47, No. 24 Utah 35 (2003)
2002 went briefly off the rails, following a surprising loss in DeKalb. Meanwhile, Rocky Long — now at San Diego State — came to Salt Lake City in 2003 and handed a hot Utes squad a little comeuppance.
Meyer would win his final 16 games as Utah head coach.
Oh right, this happened
23. Mississippi State 10, No. 22 Florida 7 (2010)
Meyer also briefly retired after 2009 but eventually returned for another season. His post-Tebow Gators lost three straight, the last of which was to former understudy Dan Mullen, early in his Mississippi State tenure.
*shakes fist* SPURRIER!!
22. South Carolina 30, No. 19 Florida 22 (2005)
21. No. 22 South Carolina 36, No. 24 Florida 14 (2010)
Former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier landed a couple of shots when he returned to the SEC. As South Carolina head coach, he knocked off Meyer’s first and last Gator teams.
*shakes fist* BAMA!!
20. No. 1 Alabama 31, No. 7 Florida 6 (2010)
19. No. 15 Alabama 31, No. 5 Florida 3 (2005)
Meyer went just 2-3 against Alabama while in Gainesville, and all three losses came by at least 19 points. The first and last weren’t quite as meaningful, but they were first signs that these seasons weren’t quite going to live up to expectation.
*shakes fist* MILES!!
18. No. 1 LSU 28, No. 9 Florida 24 (2007)
17. No. 10 LSU 21, No. 11 Florida 17 (2005)
Meyer went just 3-3 against Les Miles’ LSU Tigers. All three were close and bitter. In these two, however, LSU was just the better team.
Not good, but not all-time awful
16. No. 5 Oklahoma 31, No. 2 Ohio State 16 (2017)
We might look back on this as simply a game in which a good Ohio State couldn’t do enough to stop the eventual Heisman winner. Minimal shame there, though it had potential national title implications.
15. Michigan 41, No. 9 Florida 35 (2007)
14. No. 12 Clemson 40, No. 7 Ohio State 35 (2013)
These bowl losses were extremely fun but not particularly meaningful. They also set the table for national title runs the next year.
The rare rivalry loss
13. No. 22 Florida State 31, Florida 7 (2010)
12. Penn State 24, No. 2 Ohio State 21 (2016)
At Utah, Meyer was 2-0 against BYU. At Florida, he was 10-2 against Florida State and Georgia. Thus far at Ohio State, he’s 10-1 against Michigan and Penn State. You might not find a better rivalry coach in the country.
Everybody drops a couple, though. His perfect record against FSU was marred in the last regular season game of his Florida tenure.
And in 2016, his Buckeyes couldn’t quite put Penn State away in the first three quarters, opening the door for a thrilling finish in the fourth.
The dumbest, most wonderful fake
11. No. 12 LSU 33, No. 14 Florida 29 (2010)
The Gator Stomp
10. No. 20 Georgia 42, No. 9 Florida 30 (2007)
The Gator Chomp
9. Auburn 20, No. 4 Florida 17 (2007)
Painful, but won the national title anyway
8. Virginia Tech 35, No. 8 Ohio State 21 (2014)
7. No. 11 Auburn 27, No. 2 Florida 17 (2006)
6. Ole Miss 31, No. 4 Florida 30 (2008)
Few teams have been better with their backs against the wall than Meyer teams. In each of his three national title runs, his team suffered a loss in September or mid-October, forcing them to win out to reach the promised land. They succeeded each time.
Only one of these losses featured The Speech, though.
*shakes fist* DANTONIO!!
5. No. 10 Michigan State 34, No. 2 Ohio State 24 (2013)
4. No. 9 Michigan State 17, No. 2 Ohio State 14 (2015)
Death, taxes, and Michigan State playing its best game of the year against Ohio State. Mark Dantonio’s Spartans wrecked national title dreams in the 2013 Big Ten title game, then pulled a repeat two years later … with a backup quarterback.
Hell, they almost did it again in 2016 with Dantonio’s worst team.
Painful, but … what?
3. Iowa 55, No. 3 Ohio State 24 (2017)
After those title runs of 2006, 2008, and 2014, it wasn’t hard to assume that, following September’s loss to Oklahoma, Meyer’s Buckeyes would figure things out and roll. They dominated in the OU aftermath, then came back from an early deficit to take down Penn State in Columbus.
It was all going according to script. Until it wasn’t.
A loss in Iowa City wasn’t 100 percent surprising in and of itself. The Hawkeyes have made a habit of making top teams’ lives miserable at home. The margin of this Iowa upset victory, however, was stunning.
Iowa sat on top of the bully, one it had only defeated once in 20 years, and didn’t stop punching. The Hawkeyes scored their most points ever on Ohio State. They scored more than anyone had scored on the Buckeyes in 23 years and the fifth-most ever. They scored the most ever on an Urban Meyer team, period.
Meyer teams don’t ever look as bad as this Meyer team looked.
Shut out in the Playoff
2. No. 3 Clemson 31, No. 2 Ohio State 0 (2016)
The 2015 coronation went awry with an out-of-nowhere loss to Michigan State. The 2016 campaign almost did as well with the loss to Penn State, but the Buckeyes won out down the stretch and eked out their second College Football Playoff bid.
They were three-point favorites against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers. The spread was 34 points off.
Still the standard bearer
1. No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 1 Florida 13 (2009)
Meyer has landed a couple of shots on Saban. His 2008 Gators pulled away from Saban’s first great Bama team in the SEC title game on the way to the national championship, and his 2014 Buckeyes took down the favored Tide in the CFP semis.
But he’ll never get 2009 back. Tim Tebow’s senior season was all but ordained to be the Gators’ third title run in four years. Tebow was meant to go out on top, right?
The beginning of Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa ended Meyer’s in Gainesville.
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