A win against Oregon at AT&T Stadium in the College Football Playoff National Championship would give the Buckeyes their sixth national title in program history.
More important to the players on the team, it would give the ultimate prize to the senior class. Members of that group started their careers with a 6-7 record, enduring one of the most chaotic seasons in program history, but could leave Columbus as champions.
“We just have to find a way to get it done,” sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said. “I mean, after all the stuff that we came through, it all comes down to this one last game. Nobody expected us to be here, but the way I look at it is, this senior class that we have, it was the first group of people that we met when I got here. And I want to do everything in my power to make sure we send them out with a ring because they’ve been here all these years and unfortunately they dealt with some stuff – it wasn’t their fault but they dealt with some stuff where they didn’t get anything, no rings or anything.
“The one year they went to the Gator Bowl they lost, the year after that we were ineligible and then we didn’t get it done last year. So my biggest motivation this whole season was to make sure they get something to remember themselves being here. That’s what the biggest focus for us is basically.”
Regardless of the outcome against the second-ranked Ducks, the 2014 Buckeyes will be remembered as the team that overcame tremendous adversity on and off the field to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff with a third-string quarterback at the helm.
They will also be remembered for their team-first mentality. Head coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly said that this is the closest team that he has ever been around, a quality that was galvanized by the hardships that the Buckeyes have endured.
“We’d do anything for each other, and it’s an awesome feeling to all be in it together,” sophomore Joey Bosa said.
From the preseason injury to Braxton Miller to the home loss to Virginia Tech to the loss of J.T. Barrett to an ankle injury against Michigan, each obstacle that Ohio State faced this season has brought the team closer together.
“You see guys grow up basically,” junior tackle Taylor Decker said. “You see how they are going to respond and what they are going to do being put under pressure situations, being put into adverse situations. You definitely do get closer especially with any position, any unit or any team. When you go through tough games or situations or scenarios you are going to get closer, it just happens.”
That closeness has carried the Buckeyes to within a win in suburban Dallas from the national title.
Underdog Role Not New
If Ohio State is to leave Texas with a national championship, it will be a title won as the underdog. For the third game in a row and fourth time this season, the Buckeyes enter a game as the oddsmakers’ pick to lose.
Oregon, a team whose 13 wins have come by an average of more than 27 points and one that is fresh off a 39-point win over defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, opened as a seven-point favorite over Ohio State.
It’s a familiar position for the Buckeyes and – considering they are 3-0 as underdogs this season having topped Michigan State, Wisconsin and Alabama – one they are comfortable with. “We have been underdogs since my sophomore year it seems like,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “That’s OK with me. That doesn’t shape the way that we play. We always play with a chip on our shoulder. If they told us we were 20-point favorites, it wouldn’t make any difference.
“The coaches do a great job of motivating us. We do a great job of motivating one another. We’re just going to come out and play football.”
Meyer is 5-0 as an underdog in his three seasons with Ohio State, but the coach said he approaches the situation differently depending on the team he has. He won’t address the fact that his team isn’t the favorite until close to kickoff, he said, and sometimes – like the Sugar Bowl against Alabama – Meyer doesn’t feel the need to play up the underdog role much at all. To Decker, whatever the oddsmakers say doesn’t matter.
“I know Vegas or ESPN or whatever has us as a seven- or nine-point underdog or something like that, but we are not,” the lineman said. “We are not an underdog. Ohio State is never going to be an underdog, and that is just how it is. That is the way that I see it. We have just as good of players, if not better players, at every position, and I think right now we are playing some of the best football in the country and hopefully after this next game we are playing the best football in the country. I don’t read much into that at all because I don’t view it that way.”
This season, Michigan State was favored by three points over Ohio State; the Buckeyes won by 12. The Buckeyes were expected to lose by three once again when they faced Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers were shut out, 59-0. The nine-point underdog Buckeyes got a seven-point win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as well.
With three down and one to go, who is to say that the underdog role doesn’t suit this Ohio State team?
“It’s kind of an unsaid feeling, a vibe that we all get,” senior receiver Evan Spencer said. “It kind of goes to the hunger we have as a team. We’re so hungry and we play with a chip on our shoulder, and we do everything for each other and that hunger is for each other.
“Them putting us as underdogs, let them, I don’t care. We play so well as underdogs, I don’t really care what they predict the score to be because I know what we’re going to go out there and do and what we’re going to go out there and stop them from doing. Let’s go play ball.”
Unprecedented 15th Game
When the Buckeyes and Ducks do play ball at 8:30 p.m. Monday, it will be the 15th time for both teams, a new feat for both schools that ties a Division I FBS record set by BYU in 1996 and Kansas State in 2003.
When Ohio State takes the field in Dallas it will be 135 days removed from its season opener against Navy. The Buckeyes have run 1,015 plays and gained 7,163 yards since their season started more than four months ago.
“That’s a lot of wear and tear on these players,” Meyer said. “I’m noticing it. I can see it. I’ve never practiced like this. We are being very cautious right now because your bodies weren’t meant – back when they did the 85 scholarship rule, there’s 12 games. The three that they added aren’t against (FCS schools). The three that you’re playing are Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon. Just throw those on the end of the schedule.”
Meyer gave his team an off day from practice Wednesday. While the team was still deep in mental preparation for the Ducks, the coach said that with the pace he had been pushing the players, they needed a physical day off.
While it is the 15th game for Ohio State, Oregon is in the same position. No Buckeye is using the grind of one of the longest seasons in the history of D-I college football as an excuse.
“It’s not much of a concern,” redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee said. “You’re in the national championship. You’ve got to be mentally tough even if you are tired. It was a mentally tough game going against Alabama so we’ll be fine. It’s not an issue.”
- Tight end Jeff Heuerman and H-back Dontre Wilson are both probable for the national title game, Meyer said. Heuerman rolled his right ankle on the Buckeyes’ first offensive play against Alabama and was limited from that point. Wilson has not seen the field since breaking a bone in his foot against Michigan State on Nov. 8. The sophomore was still in a walking boot at practice Tuesday.
- After coaches and athletics directors at both Ohio State and Oregon called for the College Football Playoff committee and the NCAA to cover some of the travel costs for players’ families, the playoff announced Tuesday that that it would provide a $1,250 travel reimbursement per parent starting with this year’s title game in Dallas.
- Rumors had surfaced that Decker, a junior, could be playing his last game as a Buckeye as he was considering the opportunity to forgo his senior season for the NFL draft. The Ohio State left tackle put an end to the talk Tuesday.
“I am going to come back next year,” he said. “I have seen a bunch of reports about that. I never submitted for draft feedback or anything like that. I love playing with my teammates, and I ultimately think it would be better for me in the long run, for moving on in my career, to have another year here.”
- Ohio State will be looking to extend its nation-leading 12-game winning streak in Dallas. The Buckeyes last lost Sept. 6.
- Meyer enters the game 8-2 in bowl games and a perfect 2-0 in national title games.