It’s January and it’s time for playoff football. No, not those playoffs, these playoffs. 2015 marks the first time in history that Division I College Football, called the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) has a playoff, however concise, to decide the officially recognized national champion (the NCAA’s Division II, now called the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), and Division III, called, uh, Division III football leagues have had a playoff set-up for years). If you’re a football fan or a regular drinker of Dr. Pepper, then you know that the first round of this first go at a four-team playoff has been played and boy, was it ever entertaining to watch. Ultimately, those in Tallahassee and Tuscaloosa weren’t all that happy by the end of the games, and perhaps they’d have preferred just one more year of the old system – called the Bowl Championship Series or BCS – because it matched up the top two teams in the nation as decided by a number of human and computer polls and had them face off in a winner-takes-all national championship. Formerly undefeated Florida State, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) champ Alabama would have most likely been the two teams in this match-up had the BCS still been the way of things. It makes sense because Florida State was the only unbeaten team left, had won the previous national championship with almost the same team they fielded this year, and they won the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC), one of the Power 5 (as in five best) Conferences for football, for the second straight year. Alabama had one loss, but it came from another good team in the SEC, the athletic conference that is perceived to the best by a wide margin, which the Crimson Tide also won this year. It’s also worth considering that they’ve won three of the last five national championships too, so they’ve been pretty good for a while. Just given those credentials, it seems like throwing in two extra teams would be pointless in determining the national champion, right? There are definitely great teams out there that can compete with Florida State and Alabama, but why delay the inevitably? Sure, the quantity of teams involved increases (and so does the revenue from the extra games) but why can’t we just cut to the chase and wrap up the college season with the crowning of the Seminoles or Crimson Tide? Well, ESPN college football personality and eternal youth Lee Corso always likes to say, “Not so fast!” when he disagrees with someone’s pregame selection of the winner of a game, and Ohio State and Oregon certainly felt the same way. They were the other two teams chosen to be part of the inaugural College Football Playoff. They have a few similarities between them too, like how their teams have a very fast-paced style on offense with speedy playmakers (maybe they wouldn’t say, “Not so fast!”), their states both begin with the same letter and are in the northern half of the US, oh, and I almost forgot to mention, that one week from today they will be playing each for the National Championship.
In what should be another highly entertaining game, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Oregon Ducks will meet January 12th in the winner-takes-all game both have earned the chance to play in. Although my avatar may be duck-billed, my heart is all Buckeye, so I’m hoping that this ninth meeting between the Bucks and Ducks will go like the previous eight which were all won by Ohio State. However, I am very aware such streaks can be broken; Ohio State had lost all three of its prior contests with Alabama until this most recent Sugar Bowl Playoff Semifinal saw a different result. That 42-35 win for the Bucks was closer than it should have been too thanks to early mistakes by Ohio State. Of course, Oregon didn’t do too bad themselves. Led by Heisman Trophy winner (awarded to the best player in college football each season) Marcus “Super” Mariota, the Ducks flew past Florida State easily. 59-20 is a stunning result between top three teams, one that caused Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer to nearly jump out of his seat. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes currently have been having some luck with another streak: they have won all 22 games in which senior wide receiver Devin Smith has caught a touchdown pass in his career in Columbus. The Ducks would be unwise to devote their secondary to keeping Smith out of the endzone though, as Ohio State has many more skill position players capable of catching, running, and jumping, and there’s even a few guys who can throw the ball for them. Even if Ohio State loses this game, their season is a definite win, especially considering how it could have gone, and at one point seemed to be going.
Just 11 days before their season opener against Navy (that is to say, the Naval Academy’s football team; it’s not like the Buckeyes had to take the field against a fleet of warships), Ohio State learned their star quarterback Braxton Miller, the two-time Most Valuable Player of the Big Ten Conference and one of the best football players in the nation, would miss the entire season with a shoulder injury. That meant redshirt freshman (meaning he never played in his academic freshman year so he’s actually a sophomore who can play for up to four more years, including during graduate school) J.T. Barrett, who had never started a game, would be the guy throwing the ball for the whole 2014 season. The Buckeyes beat Navy in Week 1, but Week 2’s opponent, Virginia Tech, proved to be too much for Barrett and his young teammates. Ohio State has mostly (then) less experienced underclassman starting on this season’s football team and they lost in ugly fashion. It was a nightmare for Buckeye fans who felt the worst was yet to come. But don’t put tackling adversity past head coach Urban Meyer. The man has done nothing but take underdogs and downtrodden teams and turned them into champions. No Meyer team ever had a sobbing backseat confession of guilt where they’ve regretfully declared, “I coulda been a contender!” and this team proved to be no different. Ohio State beat everyone else they faced, and often they beat them in overwhelming fashion. The most important victory of this and every other season came against hated rival Michigan, who, scUM of the Earth that they are, tried to ruin the incredible rebounding run the Buckeyes were on when J.T. Barrett broke his ankle against them, thereby knocking him out for the rest of the game and the ensuing postseason (scUM though they are, nobody meant to do that, of course). This seriously hurt the Buckeyes chances (and Barrett’s ankle, no doubt) at making the four-team playoff they had worked themselves back into the mix of. Even if they beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Title Game, the loss of two Heisman quality quarterbacks would be too much for the Playoff Committee to overlook with Baylor and TCU (Texas Christian University) kicking some serious butt (including each others). Fortunately, Ohio State is insanely deep at the quarterback position this year, and sophomore Cardale Jones, the man who eloquently declared on his now legendary Twitter that he “ain’t come to play school”, stepped up and knocked down the big bad Badgers. (It also helps that other players besides Ohio State’s three quarterbacks can throw the ball, as wide receiver and former high school slinger Evan Spencer did this with his only collegiate pass.) Ohio State absolutely destroyed Wisconsin 59-0 in the most lop-sided win in any Power 5 Conference Title Game ever. Over in the Big 12, Baylor and TCU looked really good, but a variety of factors like the lack of a Conference Title Game, the indecision of their league’s president to crown a champion (should have been Baylor who beat TCU head-to-head in a wild 61-58 win where they came back from 21 down in the last 11 minutes), and the one undeniable asset that a school with a fan-following like Ohio State has: money. Even though both Baylor and TCU are closer to the Rose and Sugar Bowls the playoff games were played in, Ohio State fans will always fill the seats in any stadium regardless of the opponent or location better than those two schools and almost every other. For proof, look no further than the title picture which I took of the opening kickoff from the 77th (and final) row of the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2010, the venue Ohio State and Oregon last met in. Bearing in mind that my camera was unable to get that high quality wide panoramic shot and cut a chunk of the Ohio State dominated sections out of frame, what you see in yellow is what there was seated inside there for Oregon. Maybe 1/3 of the stadium was in gold and green and whatever the fuck other colored jerseys they wear each week (and those guys in yellow coats on the field are security personnel). It’s hard for Baylor and TCU to compete with that in a stadium, even the Jerry Jones Cathedral to himself in their own backyard where the Championship is being held. Not to mention that fans who can’t get tickets to whatever bowl game Ohio State goes to will still travel down to it because it’s winter here and we’re fucking tired of the cold! It’s not even anywhere near as bad as last year and we’re just about done with winter. We also have a history of traveling away from our state. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina might as well be an annex of ours, and it’s no accident that the first American in orbit and the first man on the moon, along with many other astronauts, were from Ohio. We just can’t get far enough away from here and we will spend lots of money to make our mass exodus, especially if it’s to watch our most beloved football team.
It certainly helps that Ohio State has proven itself to be one of the two best teams in the nation this year. Old Yellering Wisconsin with ease and beating oft thought invincible Alabama in their own territory (if you’ve got a complaint LSU, take it up with your football team which should have beat the Tide. Nice job making Wisconsin fuck up early again though) has shown that they belong in the title game that every previous measure of assessment would have left them out of. Fellow conference foe and previous biggest win of the season for the Buckeyes, Michigan State helped validate that case as well, by rallying from 20 points down in the final quarter to beat Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl. TCU walloped Mississippi (the only other team to beat Alabama this season) 42-3 in the Peach Bowl, so they’ll still whine about being left out, to which I say maybe next time don’t blow a three touchdown lead and check out my post from last week. (I will, however, give a shout out to TCU senior safety Sam Carter, who gave away his swag bag of various goodies that all bowl team players receive from the main bowl sponsor of their postseason contest when he visited a children’s hospital. I know I’d probably hang onto a watch, gift cards, and an Apple TV receiver.)
The rest of us are going to revel in the glory of Ohio State’s deconstruction of the SEC’s finest in our own way. We could be like Oregon, Ohio and officially alter the name of our city for next Monday to make it clear where our affections lie. Of course, now your GPS will be confused if you make a trip to Maumee Bay State Park. Hopefully they change back in time for the next algal bloom this summer. I currently feel very much like Grantland writer and Ohio State alum Mark Titus right now and if you haven’t seen his collaborative discussion of the Sugar Bowl yet, hop to it. Right you are, Mark, Michigan can suck it, even if they did just make the best hire in football – professional included – since 2011, when this place called Ohio State hired a guy named Urban Meyer, whose comparison to Ohio State’s previous coach, Jim Tressel, by Titus is incredible..
Regardless of where your team is (except maybe Fort Worth) there can be no denying that the College Football Playoff is the best system yet for deciding who the best team in the nation is. The postseason of the sport with the best regular season will most likely alter again in the future, quite possibly with an expansion of teams playing in playoff games, but for now we can rest assured that it’s progress and we’re going to kick off the first championship in this new format with a hell of a game. Go Buckeyes!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or requests for future topics for me to write about, drop ’em in that box at the bottom of the page or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise I’ll read them because you’re important to me. Of course, submissions with well-wishes for the Buckeyes will be granted audience first. Come on down again next week, just be sure to set aside some TV time in the evening; I hear there’s a game on.
Stay as cool as the other side of the pillow,