Who's Ohio State's MVP? Probably not who you think it is
DALLAS (AP) It might seem easy to pick the most valuable player for Ohio State.
It's got to be quarterback-sacker Joey Bosa, right? Or maybe leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott, who's collected more than 1,600 yards in a breakout season? Or even a quarterback, maybe J.T. Barrett, who led the charge all season before getting hurt, or Cardale Jones, who's pulled a Lou Gehrig since taking over the last two games?
Yet coach Urban Meyer's choice isn't among the top six on the team in any major statistic.
Give up? According to Meyer, there's no question that the most important Buckeye heading into Monday night's national championship game against Oregon is senior guiding light Evan Spencer.
''He's the MVP of our team,'' Meyer said earlier this week, allowing no wiggle room for anyone else. ''He's the leader of our team. He's the guy that, at the right time, I'll probably make an executive decision and make him a captain.''
He does not have numbers that'll wow opponents or impress pro scouts. It's his body of work, and his leadership and other intangibles which make him invaluable.
After all, he's only the Buckeyes' ninth-leading receiver with 15 catches, 11th-leading rusher with a single carry for nine yards and tied for 10th (with Dontre Wilson, who broke his foot and missed the last seven games) in scoring with three touchdowns.
''There's a lot of things I can do on the football field,'' said Spencer, the son of a former Ohio State captain, standout running back Tim Spencer, now an assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. ''I just try to do everything I can when I'm out there, whether it's block or throw something or catch something, I try to do it to the best of my ability. I guess the best of my ability is sometimes kind of cool.''
Spencer proved his importance in the Buckeyes' 42-35 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. If he didn't do what he did on three plays, Ohio State might well be home stewing over what might have been instead of gearing up for the biggest game in college football.
With just 12 seconds left in the half and the Buckeyes trailing 14-13, Spencer took a pitch, pulled up and fired a perfect spiral into the end zone where Michael Thomas made a leaping catch while barely planting one foot inbounds for the touchdown.
Alabama had pinned the Buckeyes at their own 15 and the tide, literally, had turned with 3:24 left in the game. Clinging to a 34-28 lead, Ohio State was struggling to just make a first down. Then Elliott took a pitch around left end and turned the corner just as Spencer wiped out two prospective tacklers with a crunching block. The 85-yard touchdown run allowed the Buckeyes, back on their heels, to regain their footing.
''He took two guys out and there's not one person in this facility that's shocked that he did that,'' Meyer said.
Then, after Alabama scored with just under 2 minutes left to pull within a touchdown, Spencer leaped high to snag the on-side kick and control it.
That virtually booked Ohio State's ticket for the first CFP title game.
Others might be surprised with the esteem showered on Spencer. But not his teammates.
''You turn on the film and he doesn't get targeted a ton (on passes), doesn't have the most touchdowns on the team, most receptions, most yards or whatever,'' said linebacker Joshua Perry. ''But (he makes) great special teams plays, clutch plays when we need them, great leadership, selfless player. When you have a guy as talented as him who does all those things even though he's not getting the stats that he wants, that's why he's the MVP.''
Yes, Spencer was the Ohio State player in November 2013 who dissed unbeaten Alabama and Florida State by saying, ''Well, I guess I'm a little biased, but I think we'd wipe the field with both of them.''
He apologized for those rash words. But his teammates supported the confidence behind them.
Now that he's graduated from Ohio State with a degree in economics, Spencer may still join his dad in the NFL, which has a history of preferring sack totals, receptions and 40-yard dash times over character and integrity.
At this moment, he clearly has the undying devotion of his fellow players. Should he be tabbed as a captain, that's a pretty good claim to fame.
''The captains of a team that gets to go to a national championship, those guys have their names kind of written in stone,'' he said. ''That would mean the world to me.
''I try to be a servant to my guys and I do whatever I can for them and whatever I can to win games. It's good that that's getting praised, I guess. It's an incredible honor.''
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP