The first College Football Playoff ends with the number four seed, Ohio State, winning the national championship with a dominant 42-20 win over favored Oregon, as Urban Meyer shows he can build an “SEC team” in the Big Ten and succeed with Cardale Jones, a third-string quarterback and a phenom running back in Ezekiel Elliott while Heisman winner Marcus Mariota couldn’t do much following the opening drive.
When Oregon look back on this game, their second national championship appearance in five seasons, both ending with a loss, they’ll think about dropped passes (three in the game, all on third down) and how they couldn’t take advantage of all the opportunities the Buckeyes gave them. Ohio State lost the ball four times – one drop that turned into an interception and three fumbles, including an embarrassing slip by Jones. But Oregon kept getting stuffed in the red zone, settling twice for field goals and scoring only one touchdown following their opening drive. They were held scoreless in the final 21:39 of the game.
Jones just made the quarterback headache for Meyer next season greater. He finished one touchdown pass on 16-of-23 for 242 yards, once again showing off his cannon of an arm. He also ran for a touchdown and 38 yards, and will put a lot of pressure on J.T. Barrett, who has pretty much pushed Braxton Miller out of the running, unless there’s something we don’t seem to know. But Jones, the quarterback, wasn’t the real star of this one.
There have been a lot of names mentioned when it comes to the best running back in the nation this season: Gurley from Georgia, Gordon from Wisconsin, maybe even Abdullah from Nebraska. But Ezekiel Elliott, a sophomore, showed just how good he is on the biggest stage, finishing the season with three consecutive games of 220 yards or more. He had 246 with four touchdowns in the win over Oregon, looking unstoppable and maybe putting himself in position to lead the list of Heisman candidates next season.
After giving up 21 consecutive points, Oregon, through the power of forcing turnovers, managed to narrow it down to one point. Just like in their win over Florida State, it started looking like their speed and intensity was about to take over. But this Ohio State team is special, even if it comes from the “weaker” Big Ten. The Ducks were held to only 2-of-12 on third downs and 1-of-4 in the red zone, both season worsts, while giving up more points than they had against anyone else. Maybe it was simply momentum, maybe it was simply Ohio State being that much better than everyone else.
Urban Meyer’s success with Florida helped usher in the age of the SEC and the fall of the Big Ten. He’s now the one who puts the Buckeyes back on top of the College Football world. Some people in Texas might still argue that they deserved a shot to play for the national title, but if Ohio State beat both Alabama and Oregon, putting up 84 points on them in the two games, it means the committee probably made the right choice.
It’s hard to speak of Ohio State, one of the most successful programs in the sport’s history, as a fairy tale story, but the fact is that no one gave them a chance after they lost to Virginia Tech. They were underdogs going into their road game at Michigan State. They were underdogs in the Big Ten championship game with Cardale Jones starting his first game ever, and that trend carried on into the playoff vs both Alabama and Oregon.
But some teams get better as the season grows longer. The offensive line became more and more difficult to disrupt. The fantastic front seven did an excellent job of hiding the flaws of the secondary. Receiving like Devin Smith and Michael Thomas made the transition between quarterbacks so much easier, with Jones looking more and more like someone who has been around for the entire season with every game and play that went by.