In fact, the year has stretched into 2015, but we're still here with this occasional feature to discuss our thoughts on the Buckeyes and more. In this case, we'll break down the national championship game and do a little looking back, too, at the Sugar Bowl win vs. Alabama.
Our panel: BuckeyeSports.com writers Ryan Ginn, Blake Williams and Marcus Hartman along with editor Jeff Svoboda. Can the Buckeyes beat the Ducks? We take a look.
1. Was the Alabama win one of the most satisfying for Ohio State fans that you've seen over the years?
Ryan: I’ve actually seen Ohio State play in the Superdome three times (the Sugar Bowl vs. Texas A&M, the BCS National Championship Game vs. LSU and the CFP semifinal against Alabama), and let’s just say OSU fans seemed to enjoy this one the most. Beating the SEC in New Orleans for a berth in the national championship is about as good as it gets for OSU fans without actually seeing their team win a ring. So it’s behind the Miami (Fla.) win, but that might be about it as far as recent history goes.
Marcus: Nothing beats the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, but this has to be the biggest non-Michigan win since the series with Notre Dame in the mid-1990s. Those were games that let Ohio State prove it belonged on the big stage after walking through the wilderness for the first couple of years of the John Cooper rebuilding project. Miami did that, too, but brought a national title with it. Others that come to mind would be Michigan 1998, Penn State 2009 and this year’s Michigan State game. And of course both Rose Bowl victories, but this one had more on the line.
Blake: It’s certainly up there. It doesn’t top the 2003 Fiesta Bowl win because, you know, that was for a national championship, and it’s probably a step back from the satisfaction that Buckeye fans got from the 2006 Michigan game in the moment, but it’s just after that. Beating an Alabama team that had been at the pinnacle of the sport for the past five years and represented a conference that has towered over college football (either in reality of perception) has to be immensely satisfying to Ohio State fans who have been told they weren’t good enough for the past eight years.
Jeff: I got asked this question on the radio last week and said it was, comparing it to the 2002 national championship game in some ways. Other games that are up there would be the 2006 Fiesta Bowl win vs. Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl vs. Oregon in 2010 and the Michigan game in 2006, but this had all the makings of a win the fanbase will remember forever -- provided OSU backs it up with a victorious performance vs. Oregon. I've seen some say that this sets up like the 1980 Olympics -- after beating the Soviets, the U.S. still had to beat Finland for the gold medal just as OSU still has to beat the Ducks. That's an interesting way of putting things, but I do agree that beating an SEC team like Alabama at the height of its powers on what is basically the SEC's home turf was pretty damn memorable.
2. Shifting gears to Oregon, how much does the Ducks' tempo worry you if you're Ohio State?
Ryan: Ohio State should be worried about it to at least some extent, but every day in practice they face a no-huddle offense that has (lately) been trying to move quickly. I think it won’t be as big an adjustment for the Silver Bullets as it might be for other teams.
Marcus: It could be a big problem because the Ducks might turn some of those mistakes the Buckeyes tend to make early in games into points faster than the average opponent. But then again maybe it won’t make a big difference because this Ohio State team is nothing if not resilient. They might not be out of it if they fall into another hole, but this is not the team to tempt fate against.
Blake: Some. The Ducks can move and it is legitimate to wonder how much Ohio State will be able to rotate defensive linemen and keep their studs like Mike Bennett and Joey Bosa fresh for the end of the game, but overall I think the pace is something the Buckeyes can manage. Given the offense the Buckeyes run, Ohio State should be prepared to face a team like this and I trust that Urban Meyer will have them ready to handle the Ducks' break-neck speed. Pounding the ball with Ezekiel Elliott should help the defense get rest, too.
Jeff: I think if there's any team in the country that can at least be prepared for it, it's Ohio State. The Buckeyes run a tempo offense at times so I think the defense has prepared against it before, and I also think Ohio State mostly has the athletes to stop Oregon at times as well. The key to keeping the Ducks from rolling is getting them off the field, and the key to getting them off the field is stopping them before they get started. Ohio State is talented up front and athletic on the edge. Those are keys to shutting down Oregon.
3. Ohio State has done well handling Heisman finalists so far, but what can we expect about of Marcus Mariota?
Ryan: I think he’ll have a good game, but I’ll be surprised if Ohio State doesn’t intercept him at least once. I anticipate OSU being able to have success against Oregon’s rushing attack, which could make Mariota’s life more difficult.
Marcus: Mariota definitely has the potential to go off on anybody. I haven’t seen anyone in a long time who can keep plays alive and so consistently make something happen down the field as he does. No doubt, Mariota is the biggest concern for Ohio State on either side of the ball.
Blake: There is little doubt that Mariota will go off by a normal quarterback’s standards, but he may not be able to match the numbers he has put up this year. The Ducks are depleted at wide receiver and I have confidence the Ohio State corners will keep Mariota’s options in front of them. He’s capable of nickel-and-diming the Buckeyes, and will to an extent, but I think Ohio State will keep him in check.
Jeff: I will admit that Mariota is a scary proposition. The thing that has stood out about him to me has been how elusive he can be in the pocket; one minute, it looks like he's dead to rights, the next, he's escaping and making a play downfield. There's little that's more frustrating to a defense than getting good coverage, a good pass rush and then still giving up a big play. And even with Oregon missing its deep threats, I think Mariota's legs can open up things in the passing game. That, to me, is the biggest worry.
4. What advantages does Ohio State have in the national championship game?
Ryan: The biggest one might be in the coaching department. Urban Meyer has been here before and won both times, while Mark Helfrich is in just his second season as a head coach. Meyer knows what he’ll have to do to get the job done, and he’s currently in the midst of the best coaching job of his career. I also think the OSU run game will fare well.
Marcus: I look for the Buckeyes to have a power advantage on both sides of the ball. Recall seeing big, bad SEC defensive linemen gum up the Ducks inside runs when they faced LSU and Auburn? Ohio State has a couple of those guys, too. Of course, Cameron Heyward did just fine when it was his turn in the 2010 Rose Bowl. And if the Buckeyes’ offensive line can make holes against Alabama, Ohio State can run the ball on anyone. I do think this is a tougher, more talented Oregon team than Ohio State saw the last time, but the Buckeyes are better, too.
Blake: In my mind Ohio State has a number of advantages on offense. The running game, which has been firing on all cylinders, should be an edge for Ohio State (see below). I also feel that Devin Smith and Michael Thomas can be an advantage. Smith has proven himself the best deep ball wide receiver in college football and I don’t see that changing in the title game. For all that the senior does, I actually think that Thomas is the Buckeyes most talented receiver. With Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon’s best corner, out with an injury I expect both receivers to excel.
Jeff: I think Ohio State's offense should have a good day; I just don't see Oregon being able to handle the combination of Cardale Jones' arm and Ezekiel Elliott's legs without issue. Defensively, as I said, I think Ohio State is athletic enough to hang with Oregon, something we saw five years ago when the Buckeyes beat the Ducks in the Rose Bowl. This team has as much talent as that squad and is also prepared for this challenge.
5. Who is the most important player for the Buckeyes in this game?
Ryan: I’m going to say Darron Lee, which is pretty crazy when you think about what the reactions would have been if you had told people that this spring. If he’s able to fly around to the ball and have a game like he had against Alabama, I think the Buckeyes will be in good shape. I’d add Joey Bosa here as a close second. If he’s playing well, it could be a rough night for the Ducks’ offense.
Marcus: Darron Lee has done a great job short-circuiting bubble screens and perimeter runs this season, and this makes for a fitting final exam. I have no doubt he should be up to the task after his stellar performance against Alabama. Against a team that is as efficient and dangerous as Oregon, big plays are key to getting stops defensively, and Lee is one of the best Ohio State has at making something happen to change the game, especially since he is harder to scheme for than Joey Bosa or Michael Bennett.
Blake: Ezekiel Elliott. The Buckeye back has been an absolute workhorse of late and is proving himself to be one of the best running backs in the country. In the Ducks' lone loss, Arizona abused them on the ground and I think that is the formula for Ohio State. Good thing for the Buckeyes that Elliott is better than any Wildcats back.
Jeff: I'm tempted to say Elliott but I think it has to be a defensive player, so I'm going with Michael Bennett. Penetration can show down big plays no matter the opponent, and if Bennett gets into the backfield like he has the last few weeks of the season Oregon will be just as much trouble as any foe. A number of players on the defense are going to have to play well, but getting a good day out of one of the team's best linemen and leaders will make it easy on everyone else.
6. If you had to pick one skill position player from either of these teams to build a team around, you'd pick...
Ryan: Marcus Mariota, and it’s not even close for me. He’s the best player in the country at the most important position, and that’s the type of guy you build a team around. Three interceptions in that many pass attempts is not a fluke, nor is it the product of an offense system. He's the real deal.
Marcus: That’s a tough one if you're just looking at backs and receivers. I think I will go with Ezekiel Elliott based on his overall combination of skills both with and without the ball. Of course his size and speed is enviable, but his blocking is out of this world. And that speaks to a great attitude and work ethic. My No. 2 choice, assuming we’re not counting the quarterbacks, would be Mike Thomas because of his ability to turn a short throw into a long gain and use his body to box out defenders.
Blake: Well, if not for Mariota I would probably go Elliott, but running backs are easier to come by than Heisman-winning quarterbacks. Mariota simply doesn’t make mistakes and from what I’ve seen (and read and heard), his football IQ is off the charts. That’s an unteachable trait that makes him by first pick.
Jeff: When I devised this question, it seemed like an interesting one, as you could pick any Ohio State QB, Ezekiel Elliott, one of Oregon's dynamic wideouts or running backs, or Mariota. But only one of those people won the Heisman this year, so it seems pretty obvious that the Hawaiian is the best answer. A quarterback who can make big plays without making big mistakes is hard to find, but Mariota is that guy with 40 TD passes and just three interceptions.
7. All right, you don't have to give a score, but how do you think the game will go?
Ryan: I think Ohio State will score more points than Oregon. I’m generally inclined to believe it will be a high-scoring game, but you never know what happens when two good teams get together. Both squads boast defenses that are better than the average opponent either team faced, so I could see 30 points winning this game. My prediction, though, is 42-30. I think Ezekiel Elliott carries the Buckeyes to the win.
Marcus: If Ohio State can withstand the onslaught, I think the Buckeyes should be in pretty good shape as long as Cardale Jones continues to give his guys chances to make big plays and he avoids mistakes. Even if they fall behind early, though, they know they can come from behind to beat a top 10 team as they have already done it. I believe both of these teams will enter the game with a lot of confidence, so it will be interesting to see who breaks serve first.
Blake: I thought Ohio State would lose to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Alabama and was proven wrong. I’m tired of being wrong. This Ohio State team has won me over and as injuries and suspensions mount for Oregon, things are setting up favorably for the Buckeyes. The Ducks will certainly score, but I think Ohio State can outscore them and the defense will do just enough. I see the Buckeyes entering the fourth quarter with a six-point lead (because Oregon will go for two at some point) and be able to match scores from there.
Jeff: I honestly see this game unfolding a lot like the 2009 game between the two schools. I expect Ohio State's running game to be able to hold the ball, and I think Oregon will be surprised by the size, speed and fundamentals of the Ohio State defense. I also think this game won't be quite as high-scoring as some people think, but I am taking the Buckeyes to bring the new trophy back to Columbus for a chilly parade down High Street.