Human systems are never perfect, and this might explain why Ohio State (14-1), who defeated Oregon (13-2) 42-20 in the first College Football Playoff National Championship, was ranked No. 16 in the initial playoff committee rankings.
It also, along with a 35-21 discrediting loss to Virginia Tech in September, might explain why Ohio State was selected as the fourth and final seed let into the playoffs, a pick that irked Baylor and TCU fans who thought their teams hadn’t been given their respective shots at the title.
But just getting in was all Ohio State needed.
A Buckeye team that had lost both first- and second-string quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to injuries looked to third-year sophomore Cardale Jones to take on the daunting task of facing the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.
He never flinched.
In only his second start, he led Ohio State to a 42-35 upset that boggled the minds of fans and analysts alike. The SEC speed and power that we Southerners love to boldly purport didn’t appear to match up to its Northern foe, as sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a bruising 230 yards.
So heading into the championship a 6.5-point underdog against a Ducks team led by Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota was natural for the Buckeyes — they had been the underdog all season long.
Oregon gave all indications it would systematically dominate on the offensive side of the ball after its first drive resulted in a touchdown. But the Buckeyes answered quickly — Elliott scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run, the longest given up by the Ducks’ defense in 22 games.
On the next Ohio State possession, Elliott set up a 1-yard play-action touchdown pass from Jones to junior tight end Nick Vannett with a 17-yard run between the tackles.
Oregon was forced by Ohio State’s swarming defense to punt three times in the first quarter alone, a first since 2009.
In the second quarter, Oregon was stopped short on fourth and goal. The Buckeyes could not take advantage of the turnover on downs though, as junior Corey Smith fumbled after catching a 45-yard bomb, allowing the Ducks recovery which resulted only in yet another punt.
After a 1-yard Jones touchdown run, the next Buckeye possession resulted in an interception. This allowed Mariota to link up with junior receiver Byron Marshall for the 70-yard touchdown, closing the gap to 21-17.
Jones then turned the ball over again, this time on a fumble which would result in an Oregon field goal. But this inability to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns (1-of-4 on the night, a season low) would prove a major factor in the Ducks’ loss.
Elliott rushed for three more touchdowns, bringing his total to four, along with a 36-carry, 246-yard performance, which earned him the Offensive MVP.
Jones completed 16 of his 23 passing attempts, totaling 242 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Mariota managed 333 yards and two touchdowns, but the Duck defense could never contain Elliott’s running attack.
Oregon’s rushers were shut down completely, earning no touchdowns and a team-total of 132 yards. This impotent ground game, accompanied by converting only two of 12 third downs (a season low), contributed to the Ducks’ lowest offensive point output of the year.
Urban Meyer now joins Nick Saban as the only head coach to win National Titles at two different schools.
And if he can continue to replicate and improve upon the system he implemented at Florida and now has taken to Ohio State, there’s no reason why he can’t add more trophies to the collection.