Jimmy Burch

Ohio State earned spot in title game by silencing doubters

Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State had plenty to celebrate following their 42-35 victory over Alabama.
Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State had plenty to celebrate following their 42-35 victory over Alabama. TNS

From coach Urban Meyer to the Buckeyes’ most anonymous walk-on, every member of the Ohio State football traveling party left the Superdome early Friday morning in matching black T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase: “Won Not Done.”

Message delivered, loud and clear, that the controversial final inclusion in the four-team College Football Playoff bracket deserved its spot despite widespread belief that OSU could not keep up with top-ranked Alabama, the team it defeated 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl.

“That was a sledgehammer game. That was a classic,” Meyer said, addressing pregame doubts about his team’s pedigree. “So we are good enough.”

Message received by those of us in Tarrant County who complained loudly that a better option in purple was left untapped by members of the CFP selection committee in order to add the Buckeyes (13-1).

Based on bowl results, it’s pretty clear that No. 3 Florida State, a 59-20 loser to No. 2 Oregon in the Rose Bowl, was the playoff fraud that should have stepped aside to create room for No. 6 TCU (12-1), which rebounded from its inexplicable three-spot drop in the final CFP rankings to blindside No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl 42-3.

Regardless of the final CFP rankings, I’ll never be convinced TCU was not one of this season’s top four teams in major college football. But so, too, was Ohio State.

Buckeyes, you clearly belong. Not only in the playoff, but in the Jan. 12 CFP national championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. If Oregon (13-1) is not on top of its game in JerryWorld, the Buckeyes won’t be done until they have won the inaugural CFP title.

Yes, the team that opened as a 10-point underdog to big, bad ’Bama was that impressive in rallying from a 21-6 deficit behind a third-string quarterback who had the mental composure to shake off a pair of first-half turnovers that might have shattered the confidence of a lesser leader.

Instead, sophomore Cardale Jones threw for 243 yards, directed six scoring drives and ruled third down when it mattered. With timely runs or passes, he personally converted nine third-down situations, including seven on scoring drives. Seven conversions came on plays of third-and-6 or longer, including completions of 47, 40, 26, 26 and 14 yards that triggered a 28-0 run to flip the game, as well as the national narrative, about this team.

“Momentum, especially for a young team, is worth at least seven to 14 points during the course of a game,” said Meyer, whose squad leans on more underclassmen than any playoff team. “And the most important part of any game is the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half. We came out smoking in that stretch.”

Indeed, the Buckeyes outscored Alabama 21-0 in those pivotal 10 minutes. A young team with self-doubts became a confident team on a mission. By the time the confetti dropped from the Superdome roof, the SEC champs from Alabama (12-2) were the ones preparing to start off-season workouts.

Ohio State even survived what could have been a coaching blunder for the ages. After recovering an onside kick with 1:57 remaining and Alabama holding only two timeouts, Meyer threw deep on first-and-10 with his team protecting a 42-35 lead. The incompletion stopped the clock, giving Alabama at least 30 extra seconds on its final, beat-the-clock possession that ended with Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims lofting a pass into the end zone from the Buckeyes’ 42-yard line.

Immediately after the Buckeyes’ puzzling incompletion, former Dallas Cowboys/Oklahoma coach Barry “Load Left” Switzer posted, “Dumbest call ever!!!” on his Twitter account.

But Meyer got the last laugh when OSU safety Tyvis Powell grabbed Sims’ desperation heave in a crowded end zone that also included Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, winner of the 2014 Biletnikoff Award. Before the pick, Meyer acknowledged multiple internal second-guesses.

“I just kept thinking, ‘I screwed this thing up,’” said Meyer, who chose to throw deep because Alabama had all 11 players within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage to stop an expected run.

Eventually, another in a long line of Buckeyes playmakers saved Meyer, the victory and the trip to Arlington to continue the team’s playoff journey.

Against long odds, these Buckeys have won. They clearly are not done. They’re also thankful to be part of the initial playoff bracket that will offer an Oregon-Ohio State title game. If last year’s BCS system were still in place, we would have had the two playoff losers (Alabama, Florida State) in the championship game.

“It benefited us in this situation,” Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said of the first-year CFP format. “I mean, you get to see the two best teams playing for it all. It’s an honor to be in there.”

Feel free, TCU fans, to quibble with Lee’s take about the “two best teams playing for it all.” The Horned Frogs forever clouded that conclusion with their resounding Peach Bowl triumph.

But realize that Ohio State, without question, deserves its spot in the Jan. 12 title game in Arlington. These Buckeyes clearly rank among the top two in this four-team playoff field.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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