COLUMBUS, Ohio – In his six seasons as the head coach at Florida, Urban Meyer didn't have to wait long to see if he was really welcome in a Sunshine State recruit's home.
"(They were) either a 'Nole, 'Cane or a Gator," he said, referring to the backers of the Florida State Seminoles, Miami Hurricanes or his own Florida Gators. "You (could) walk in, 'How are you today?' and they (would use their arms to make the motion of an alligator chomp). And it would be a good day for you."
Now Meyer is the coach at Ohio State, the dominant team in its state instead of having to share the spotlight with several other top-ranked programs.
But that doesn't mean Meyer doesn't feel some unease heading into the No. 22 Buckeyes' game on Saturday night against the Bearcats.
He considers UC to be on equal footing with Ohio State.
"We have to be at our best," the 1986 Cincinnati grad said Monday. "I expect us to be that. On the bye week we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, last week, back at it today and we're ready to go."
It figures to be a huge test for the state's figurehead team, particularly since the Bearcats (2-0) can throw the ball with the best of them and the Buckeyes (2-1) have yet to prove that their new pass defense is up to snuff.
Ohio State, of course, has long flexed its muscles against the rest of the Buckeye state. It hopes to run its winning streak against in-state opponents to 40 in a row. It hasn't lost to one since a 7-6 setback to Oberlin in 1921.
The Buckeyes walloped Kent State 66-0 in its last outing before the bye.
Defensive tackle Adolphus Washington grew up in Cincinnati and got his first college scholarship offer from the Bearcats when he was a freshman at Taft High School.
And he still ended up going to Ohio State.
He says he's pretty sure Cincinnati's players feel slighted by all the attention given to the Buckeyes.
"Probably," he said. "So they're going to come in with a chip on their shoulder, ready to play."
Ohio State cornerbacks coach and special-teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was a big winner as the head coach for 16 years at Cincinnati's Colerain High School. He also spent five seasons as an assistant at UC. But when Meyer beckoned him to Columbus, he still made the move.
"Cincinnati is our home. My wife and I grew up 2 miles apart, we both went to (Colerain). Our kids went there, our families, our parents — everybody was there," Coombs said. "When Urban called (with a job offer), I called my wife and said, 'I got this phone call today. Before I tell him no, I just wanted to tell you that.' She said, 'Don't you tell him no.'
"She said, 'Let's go do this. We can make it work.'"
Coombs has been alongside Meyer now for all three of his seasons and a 26-3 record at Ohio State.
"It's still hard," Coombs said. "I loved where I lived, and I loved what I was doing. But this is Ohio State."
Only when one of its neighbors knocks off Ohio State might that perception change.
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