National championship winners, losers: Who flourished, faltered?
For further proof of just how useless the College Football Playoff’s weekly rankings are, consider this: Ohio State made only one appearance among the selection committee’s top four teams this season. The Buckeyes climbed into the playoff field for the first time in the final rankings, when they jumped to No. 4 after winning the Big Ten title.
Ohio State made the playoff committee look smart Monday. It won the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship with a 42-20 win over Oregon in Arlington, Texas. The Buckeyes earned the Big Ten’s first title since 2002, when Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a BCS crown.
After a successful first year of the College Football Playoff, SI.com breaks down some of the winners and losers from Monday’s title game.
Winner: Urban Meyer
Ohio State’s coach entered his matchup with Oregon boasting a 5-0 record as an underdog with the Buckeyes. The coach added another win to that with another big upset. Meyer’s 2014 season might go down as his most remarkable coaching job. This program had to replace two Heisman-caliber quarterbacks to win the national title with its third-string passer, Cardale Jones. Ohio State did it all while breaking in four new starters on the offensive line.
This group of Buckeyes probably isn’t done, either. In three full seasons in Columbus, Meyer has compiled a 38-3 overall record. He now has three national championships to his name after winning two during his tenure at Florida. He might already have a fourth if Ohio State’s unbeaten 2012 team had been eligible for the postseason. Regardless, this is the new norm for Ohio State. Buckeye Nation should be optimistic about the future.
Loser: Oregon’s opportunities
Oregon forced Florida State into five turnovers during the Ducks’ 59-20 win in the Rose Bowl semifinal on Jan. 1. Four Seminoles turnovers in the third quarter spurred a 27-7 stretch that allowed Oregon to break open the game. The message was clear: If you turn the ball over against the Ducks, they makes you pay. However, that wasn’t the case in the national championship.
Oregon forced Ohio State into four turnovers Monday, but the Ducks weren’t able to capitalize like they did in the Rose Bowl, scoring only 10 points off those four turnovers Monday. The Buckeyes’ defense kept Oregon’s normally explosive offense at bay for most of the night, even when it was given short fields. The Ducks’ offense finished more than 100 yards short of its rushing average and managed just 4.0 yards per carry. Oregon punted three times in the first quarter, the first time that has happened since 2009. The offense that hung 59 points on Florida State in the Rose Bowl didn’t show up Monday, and credit Ohio State’s defense for that.
Winner: Ezekiel Elliott
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota might have a Heisman Trophy, but Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott looked like the best player on the field. He finished with a national championship game-record 246 yards on 36 carries (6.8 average) with a whopping four rushing touchdowns. Elliott scored the game’s final three touchdowns and took home Offensive Player of the Game honors. He also became the first Ohio State player with at least 220 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in a game since Raymont Harris did it against BYU in 1993.
Elliott entered the season facing plenty of expectations. The departure of top running back Carlos Hyde was enough of a burden, but Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury added more pressure to Elliott’s role as a rusher. The running back eventually blossomed and played his best in key moments, compiling 696 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the Big Ten title game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship. No matter who emerges as Ohio State’s quarterback in 2015, Elliott looks to be a dangerous weapon again in the Buckeyes’ ground game.
Loser: Ohio State’s ball security
We already went over this, but it bears repeating: Ohio State won the national championship despite turning the ball over four times. Yes, you read that correctly. Meanwhile, Oregon turned the ball over only once -- on a last-ditch interception by Mariota as the clock hit zero.
The Buckeyes are extremely lucky to escape with a victory after giving Oregon so many chances to score. Ohio State’s defense managed to pick up the slack and limit the Ducks off of the turnovers, but the Buckeyes’ mistakes could have easily spelled doom for their championship hopes.
Winner: Both quarterbacks
Only one quarterback left Arlington with a national title, but both players put on strong performances on a big stage. Mariota finished 24-of-37 passing for 333 yards, two touchdowns and one interception while adding 39 yards on the ground. His pick was only the fourth of the season, and he managed to keep Oregon’s offense alive despite the absence of receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, who didn’t play due to an injury and NCAA-mandated ineligibility, respectively. The Ducks’ receiver did Mariota no favors, dropping three passes, all on third down.
Ohio State’s quarterback gets the hardware after completing 16-of-23 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and one pick in just his third career start. Jones reeled off 38 yards and a touchdown on the ground and scrambled for a number of drive-saving runs. He helped the offense finish 8-of-15 on third downs, average 6.4 yards per play and dominate time of possession (37:29 to 22:31 minutes). No one knows what’ll happen with Ohio State’s quarterback situation next year, as Miller, Barrett and Jones are all set to return. But Jones has the most successful record (3-0) of the bunch and led the Buckeyes to their three biggest wins.
Loser: Oregon’s discipline
Oregon entered Monday averaging 8.1 penalties and 72.8 penalty yards per game, both 119th nationally. The Ducks’ lack of discipline showed up again in several moments against Ohio State as they were flagged 10 times for 76 yards Monday. That only added to the frustrations of an offense that converted on 2-of-12 of its third downs.
Winner: The Big Ten
Coming into the season, the SEC had played in or won a national championship every year since 2005. Ohio State’s win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl squashed that streak. Now the Big Ten holds college football’s biggest prize, and it’s possible the best days for the conference are still to come.
The Big Ten engineered plenty of postseason success this winter even before Ohio State’s win over Oregon. Michigan State topped Big 12 co-champion Baylor, 42-41, in the Cotton Bowl. Wisconsin pulled past Auburn, 34-31, in the Outback Bowl. And Michigan, which didn’t reach a bowl game, made the biggest coaching hire of the offseason in Jim Harbaugh. The Big Ten is enjoying a lot of momentum heading into the offseason, and Ohio State’s national championship is just the icing on the cake.
Loser: Oregon’s national title window
For all of Oregon’s success during the past few seasons, two things had eluded the program: a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Mariota managed to knock one of those things off the program’s to-do list when he won the Heisman in December. But the Ducks’ search for a national championship continues.
Now that Mariota is expected to leave school early and enter the NFL draft, is Oregon’s window for a title closing? Mariota is a once-in-a-generation player who won 35 games as a starter over the last three years. Replacing him won’t be easy, and neither will maintaining that success. Second-year coach Mark Helfrich has managed to hold steady the machine built by his predecessor, Chip Kelly, but the road may be tougher ahead.