NEW ORLEANS -- So, yes, we can say the College Football Playoff is a good thing. After the utter destruction that occurred on the West Coast, Alabama and Ohio State treated 74,682 fans at the Superdome to a bracing affair sure to be discussed for decades. It would be the Buckeyes coming away with the 42-35 win and the chance to play for the national title against Oregon.
And everyone will need the 10-day break to recover from what they witnessed on Thursday. Here are three quick thoughts from the Sugar Bowl:
1. Cardale Jones performed beyond expected levels
The third-string Ohio State quarterback turned starter was alternately brilliant and maddening, stifled and unhinged. His almost comical lack of touch in the red zone left the Buckeyes with field goals on two early possessions. But the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore tried to leap over a defender on one scramble -- Air-Dale? -- and then lowered his shoulder to run over would-be tacklers on another run. There would be no sliding on New Year’s Day, and he was able to whip passes across the middle and chew up Alabama’s secondary on multiple third-and-longs. (At one point on third downs of six yards or longer, Jones was 5-of-6 for 153 yards with one touchdown, plus 32 yards rushing.)
There were flaws and detonations aplenty in a 18-for-35, 243-yard passing night, which probably should have been the expectation: Nick Saban and Kirby Smart had a month to prepare for Jones, but Urban Meyer and Tom Herman had a month to prepare Jones for them. If there’s an note to carry into the offseason, it’s that Jones doesn’t appear polished enough to challenge for the starting job in 2015 if Braxton Miller and/or J.T. Barrett return healthy. But as the only option Thursday, he wasn’t a bad one.
2. Prepare for an entire offseason of "Run The Ball, Lane!" memes
Down two scores in the third quarter, Alabama did what it should have: Run the ball, or at least get the ball to the player who had been running it like a refrigerator with rockets attached to the back. All the Tide had going for them was Derrick Henry and the occasional shot of T.J. Yeldon, and a 52-yard screen to Henry set up three more runs that led to a touchdown. It was exactly the correct bag of tricks offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had to pull from.
Then why, oh why, they will ask, did Kiffin ignore all that on possession that seemed destined to change the game? An Ohio State punt had gone for just 21 yards and Alabama had the ball at the Buckeyes’ 23-yard line … and the Tide went with a rollout pass for quarterback Blake Sims. The senior missed a defender dropped into coverage and threw an interception, ruining a golden chance to recapture control of the game. Run the ball, Lane. Run the ball.
3. The Big Ten’s big day led to this moment
Win or lose, Ohio State was going to produce the most important postseason result for the Big Ten. A playoff game against an SEC leviathan would certainly set a bar. But then Wisconsin beat Auburn in overtime. Michigan State improbably rallied past Baylor. By the time kickoff arrived in New Orleans, the Big Ten had downed two high-end teams already. The Buckeyes’ work wasn’t exactly done for them, of course. But they put the punctuation on the best day the league has had in years.