With four turnovers and the No. 3 quarterback under center facing the No. 2 team in the country? Add up all of those seemingly foreboding numbers, and the only one that matters at the moment to Ohio State is, given the injuries at the most important position on the football field, a wholly-unexpected No. 1.
For the first time in over a decade, and this time with absolutely no late-game controversy, the Buckeyes of Ohio State claimed the first-ever College Football Playoff championship with a resounding and decisive 42-20 win over Oregon. It was the first title for OSU since the overtime win over Miami in the BCS title game following the 2002 season. Oregon had been gunning for the first title in the football program’s history.
While the Ducks were gunning, the Buckeyes were busy shooting itself in the foot.
Two first-half fumbles in Oregon territory prevented the Buckeyes from blowing out the Ducks. Two third-quarter turnovers got UO right back in the game as what was a 21-10 halftime lead was sliced to 21-20 with 6:31 left in the third. That was as close as the Ducks would get, as it turns out, thanks in large part to the play of Ezekiel Elliott.
On the Buckeyes’ next three drives, the OSU running back scored a trio of rushing touchdowns that gave the eventual champs a 42-20 lead. Elliott, the game’s most outstanding player, ran for an OSU bowl-record 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries.
Over the past three games, which included wins in the Big Ten championship game, the CFP semifinal and championship games, Elliott, just a sophomore, carried the ball 76 times for 696 yards and eight touchdowns.
For head coach Urban Meyer, it was the third national championship of his career, with the first two coming at Florida. This, though, was arguably the most impressive.
After losing his top quarterback, Braxton Miller, OSU proceeded to inexplicably lose to Virginia Tech at home, a defeat that had most leaving their playoff hopes for dead. After losing Miller’s replacement, J.T. Barrett, Meyer and his offensive coaching staff, coordinator Tom Herman in particular, were able to mold the No. 3 player at the position, Cardale Jones, into not just a capable replacement but one capable of making game-changing plays.
In this game, Jones showed a little bit of youth as he was responsible for three of the four turnovers. He also, though, totaled 280 yards of offense (242 passing, 38 rushing) and one touchdown each through the air and on the ground. Almost certainly, Jones became the first quarterback in college football history to have his first three starts produce postseason wins.
It was also a humbling end to a spectacular career for the reigning Heisman winner. Marcus Mariota, in what’s expected to be the final game of his collegiate career, was actually fine statistically-speaking as he completed 23-34 passes for 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Mariota’s biggest problem, one in which both Wisconsin and Alabama can certainly commiserate? He and his Duck teammates were simply no match for an OSU team that morphed from a Hokie joke in Week 2 into an absolute buzzsaw at season’s end four months later.
The scariest part for college football in general and the Big Ten specifically? Meyer himself acknowledged during the season this team was a year away from contending for a title.
A year ahead of schedule, the Buckeyes have all of the look and feel of an SEC team that has given them championship fits over the years. Now they’ll become exactly what Meyer’s old conference was — the hunted instead of the hunters.
After the way the season began, and given their numerous detractors, I’m sure the whole of Buckeye Nation has one resounding message: bring it on.