COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Years ago when Woody Hayes prowled Ohio State's sideline, the Buckeyes would line up against some overmatched, undersized team and thick-necked farmboys would open up gaping holes for speedy backs.
Six or eight or even 10 touchdowns later, Hayes would call off the dogs and start gameplanning for the next victim.
But the man who holds Hayes' job now says that era of physical domination by teams is all but over.
"The days of anybody really just rolling over someone is more and more difficult than it ever has been," said Urban Meyer, who makes his debut as Ohio State's 24th head coach on Saturday against Miami (Ohio). "Because there is parity in college football."
There are a lot of reasons that teams don't run up lopsided scores like Ohio State did in beating TCU 62-0 in 1969, Wisconsin 56-0 in 1975 and 56-7 over Minnesota in 1973.
— Scholarship limits have flattened and spread the talent levels in what is now called the Football Bowl Subdivision.
— Conditioning, weight-training and nutrition are practiced everywhere, narrowing the gap in size and speed.
— Innovative offenses have allowed smaller, more mobile teams to compete with teams stocked with behemoths.
Meyer has had a hand in leveling the playing field, favoring a fast-paced, pass-oriented spread attack that has been adopted by dozens of teams who can score on one play from anywhere while a more talented opponent strings together a punishing 12-play, 80-yard drive.
"The Wishbone is probably the No. 1 equalizer. That's why you see a lot of the service academies do it," Meyer said this week. "Then, throwing the ball is the second equalizer because you can kind of throw it around a little bit and create matchup issues."
How ironic that the Buckeyes, who now embrace multiple-receiver sets and a no-huddle approach, will be tested in their opener by a team that does the same with the hope of negating any talent differential by running its own spread offense.
RedHawks coach Don Treadwell, a former assistant to deposed Ohio State coach Jim Tressel at Youngstown State, isn't so sure that theory works. He's says schools from power conferences have seen just about everything a team can throw at them.
"I don't know that it matters as much what type of offense is coming in because nowadays so many more teams are running similar style of offenses," said Treadwell, 4-8 a year ago in his first season in Oxford, Ohio. "Most things have been seen and practiced against. At the end of the day, it's more or less, what have you done in situations from game experience?"
In many ways, Miami is doing what Meyer hopes to do at Ohio State.
Zac Dysert is a big, strong-armed and yet mobile quarterback who passed for 293 yards a game last season while tossing 23 touchdown passes. He will take shotgun and pistol snaps, can run it and is a wizard at finding his favorite target, wide-out Nick Harwell. All Harwell did a year ago was pile up 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine TDs.
"They've got a talented quarterback, one of the best in the country," said Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Everett Withers, who will be coaching in his very first game ever in the Horseshoe. "They do some unique things in their passing game. That's why they're successful."
Meyer said his players have taken notice of the RedHawks, and Dysert and Harwell in particular.
"Those guys are excellent players who can play anywhere in the country," said the man who led Florida to national championships after the 2006 and 2008 seasons. "The good thing is that the film does not lie. That's caught the attention of our players and coaches. So we'll be ready to go."
The Buckeyes, banned from playing in a bowl game due to NCAA violations that took place when Tressel was coach, have gone through a lot in the last year. Not only have they had to adapt to an almost entirely new coaching staff (only last year's interim coach, Luke Fickell, and fellow defensive assistant Mike Vrabel were retained), but they've also adopted and adapted to Meyer's new philosophy on offense and his input on defense.
Braxton Miller, a year older after a mediocre freshman season, is back at quarterback. The defense features a solid front wall built on wide bodies that Hayes would have loved, linemen Johnathan Hankins and John Simon. The secondary is also mostly complete from last year's 6-7 season, Ohio State's first losing record since 1988.
It's not as if Miami hasn't played in big stadiums before. They traveled to Missouri and Minnesota last season, and went to Gainesville, Fla., the year before to face a Florida Gators team coached by none other than Meyer. Miami lost 34-12, but after the game the big story was how Meyer's vaunted offense flopped without the graduated Tim Tebow at the controls. The Gators had eight fumbles and totaled just 25 yards until there were 13 minutes left.
"I didn't imagine the offense's incompetence that we experienced today," said Meyer, who would resign at Florida after that 8-4 season, citing health and family reasons.
So much has been made of Ohio State's new offense, it will be hard to match the hype.
Running back Carlos Hyde was asked what fans could expect.
"A lot of points. Way more. A lot of more points and more exciting big plays," he said. "Long plays, those big plays that people want to see, those plays you see on ESPN's Top Ten. Expect that."
For his part, Treadwell is scratching his head over what the Buckeyes will do.
"It certainly goes to the advantage of the team with coaches in their first year," he said. "Because there are those unknowns."
Meyer might say the same thing.