The Ohio State Buckeyes won the first National Championship decided by the College Football Playoff System last night, with a 42-20 beatdown of Oregon (if you’d like to read more about the game itself, check out our in-depth championship recap). Sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, and freshman wide receiver/running back/punt returner Jalin Marshall all came up huge in the title game, and all three will be back next season.
They aren’t the only returning starters either — Ohio State will return seven players on each side of the ball. They will get Big Ten sack leader/mythical monster come to life Joey Bosa back (for his sophomore season), plus two-thirds of their starting linebacker corps (Darron Lee and Joshua Perry), AND three quarters of their defensive backfield. These players will return to a defensive unit that held Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and the high-flying Oregon offense to their lowest point-total since their 42-16 loss at Arizona last year and their fewest yards since their loss to Arizona in week five this year.
The offense will return Elliott (the guy who recently became the first running back to ever rush for over 200 yards against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and followed that up with a 246-yard, 4-touchdown performance in the national title game), Marshall, reception leader Michael Thomas, starting center Jacoby Boren, starting guards Billy Price and Pat Elflein, and starting tackle Taylor Decker. Not to mention two quarterbacks who have finished in the top five in Heisman voting and a third who just won a National Title.
On top of all that, the Buckeyes also have three five-star recruits coming aboard as part of the the #5 recruiting class on ESPN.com next season.
It’s not crazy to say we might be seeing the beginning of a capital-D Dynasty in Columbus. It’s not crazy, but I disagree. Not with the Dynasty part, because I definitely think Ohio State showed they have the talent, coaching, and skill to play with anybody, and the youth to keep it going. I disagree with the “beginning” part.
I think the birth of what we might one day know as the Ohio State dynasty came in 2012, Urban Meyer’s first year at the helm. The Buckeyes went undefeated that year but stayed under the radar and out of the bowl picture thanks to sanctions left over from the Jim Tressel era and the Great Terrelle Pryor Tattoo Scandal of 2010. They finished the regular season at #4 in the AP and moved up to #3 in the final rankings after Alabama knocked Notre Dame down a couple pegs in the title game, but we can assume they would have been ranked higher had they been bowl eligible.
The Buckeyes were one of two undefeated teams in the country at the end of the regular season, but since they weren’t eligible for postseason play, people just didn’t care. Check out this graph of Google searches for the terms, “Ohio State Football,” “Notre Dame Football,” and “Alabama Football,” from February 2012 to February 2013:
People cared about (or at least searched about) Ohio State far less than either of the other top three programs. Even in the Big Ten, “Ohio State Football” wasn’t the most popular search term for 2012:
Michigan still got more love (or at least Googles) on average than the Buckeyes. They were the most ignored undefeated team in college football history. Wisconsin finished third in the Big Ten Leaders Division that year, but since Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible to play in the Big Ten Title game, the Badgers played Nebraska and won 70-31 (really). So the Big Ten champion was a team the Buckeyes beat 21-14 on the road just two weeks earlier. But what can you do?
OSU quarterback Braxton Miller finished the season at the top of the conference in yards per attempt, second in passer efficiency rating, third in passing touchdowns, and third in rushing touchdowns behind only Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and teammate Carlos Hyde. The sophomore signal caller led the Buckeyes to a conference-best 37.2 points per game and won the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award for his work. On the other side of the ball, OSU defensive lineman John Simon led the conference in sacks (9) and won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award. The team led the conference in scoring margin at +14.4 per game, won every game, and no one cared. They were like a brilliant prince with seven older brothers; an epic tale written in a dead language; or that girl you met on that cruise you took with your parents when you were 17, the one whose name you didn’t have the balls to ask for — something that could have been great but never got the chance. Something you have to not think about because if you do it’ll drive you crazy with “what ifs.”
The next season, post-season hiatus completed, the Buckeyes got right back at it. They came into the season ranked #2 in the AP poll, right behind Alabama, and stayed in the top five for the duration of the regular season as they extended their winning streak to 24 games — a school record. Miller was fantastic. He led the conference in passing touchdowns (24), finished tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (12), led the number one scoring offense in the Big Ten (45.4 ppg), and earned another Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award in the process.
At the end of the regular season, the Buckeyes were undefeated again and held the number two spot in the BCS rankings. Michigan State and the Big Ten Championship game were all that stood in the way of the National Championship berth they were unable to claim the year before.
The Spartans were 11-1 going into the game and featured the number one scoring defense in the Big Ten — a defense that had held six of their 12 opponents to fewer than ten points. Ohio State was favored to win but went down 17-0 early in the second quarter. They scored the next 24 points of the game thanks to three Miller touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) but were unable to score again as Michigan State ripped off 17 points to finish it off. The Buckeyes lost 34-24.
It was Ohio State’s first loss in nearly two full years. More than that, it knocked them out of the BCS Championship game and the Rose Bowl, relegating them to the Orange Bowl, which they lost 40-35 to Clemson. Their second game in as many weeks was also their second loss in as many years.
It’s hard to blame the Buckeyes too much for the Orange Bowl loss though. How many times have we seen a national championship contender stumble across the finish line, get knocked out of title-contention, and lose a lesser bowl game immediately after? Baylor this year, Alabama last year, Stanford in 2011 — it’s tough to get a team motivated for a game they didn’t even want to play in the first place.
On top of that, Miller injured his throwing shoulder in the loss.
Coming into this year, many had the Buckeyes ranked in the top five (we had them at BR-10). Braxton Miller was back and on many Heisman short-lists, players recruited by Meyer were starting to see the field, and the Buckeyes were out for revenge. Then Miller went down, re-injuring the rotator cuff he tore in the Orange Bowl loss just 12 days before the season was set to begin, and throwing freshman backup JT Barrett into the fire.
The injury to the Buckeyes’ star quarterback had many wondering if the they missed their title window, and a 35-21 loss in the team’s home opener to Virginia Tech confirmed it. They were 1-1 and their freshman quarterback just put up a 9-for-29, 219-yard, 1-TD, 3-INT stinker against the BR-55 Hokies. Their goose was cooked.
But then a funny thing happened — Barrett got good. Real good actually. Over the next ten games he averaged 238.9 yards, three touchdowns, and .6 interceptions per game through the air, and 81.8 yards per game on the ground. He didn’t lose again, and finished fifth in the Heisman voting, but he didn’t finish the season.
Barrett broke his ankle in the season-finale against Michigan, and the title window he and the rest of the Buckeyes had worked so hard to keep open seemed to slam shut once again. Going into the Big Ten Title game against BR-11 Wisconsin they were ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff Rankings, on the outside looking in, and needed a huge win to even be considered for the Final Four. That’s a big ask for a third string quarterback making his first start since high school.
But you know how that all played out. Cardale Jones came in and turned out to be a Mack truck with a cannon attached to the right side of his body, led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 thrashing of the Badgers, then a 42-35 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a 42-20 win over Oregon in the College Football National Championship. Ezekiel Elliott found a new gear, the Buckeye defense was as tough as they had to be, and Urban Meyer orchestrated the whole thing.
Whether or not you think we’re watching a Buckeye dynasty unfold, and how far along we are in the life of that dynasty if you do think it exists, depends on a few things. Mostly, how you personally define a dynasty. I think we can all agree that championships (plural) are a big part. If Ohio State doesn’t win another title with this coach and current core, we won’t look back on them as a Dynasty.
But if the Buckeyes win another title in the next season or two, don’t we have to admit they were the best team in college football from 2012 on until they fall off? In the first three seasons of Alabama’s “Three Championships in Four Years” stretch, they went a combined 36-4. Over the past three seasons, Ohio State is 38-3.
I’m not guaranteeing anything here. I don’t know if what we’re seeing from Ohio State will turn into a dynasty, since there’s no such thing as a dynasty with just one championship. What I am saying is if the Buckeyes parlay this young core and fantastic coaching staff into two or three more titles in the next four or five years, we won’t look back on the 2014 season as the birth of the dynasty, but the middle. Ohio State has been that good for this long, now they’ve got the hardware to prove it.