COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Scroll through the statistics for the season, and it seems as though Urban Meyer might be pulling a prank when he names his most valuable player for Ohio State.
There are eight different Buckeyes with more receptions than his pick. The guy has only one rushing attempt to his credit. And, sure, his athletic recovery of an onside kick helped seal a win in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but even that doesn’t really show up in the box score.
But it’s the plays that can’t be summed up numerically that highlight Evan Spencer’s value to the No. 4 Buckeyes during their run to the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. In the semifinal victory over Alabama, he did just about everything Meyer could have possibly wanted from the senior without ever drawing that much attention to himself. But his fingerprints were all over the team’s success.
“He’s unbelievable,” Meyer said. “He's the MVP of our team. He's the leader of our team. He's the guy that at the right time, I'll probably make an executive decision and make him a captain.
“He's a wonderful kid. He's really, to me, what football is all about.”
Spencer actually did put his name on the score sheet in the win over Alabama, throwing a touchdown on a trick play that was crucial in leading a first-half comeback after the Buckeyes had fallen behind early. But thanks to his typical team-first attitude, Spencer actually was more proud of the play he made in the closing seconds to grab the onside kick, and a teeth-rattling block he had thrown a couple of minutes earlier to spring Ezekiel Elliott for a long touchdown, a pair of plays that don’t truly reveal his impact on paper.
That’s largely been the case with the senior’s contributions all season long, though the Buckeyes haven’t taken the role Spencer has played for granted for a second. And while it’s a willingness to blow open holes for others as a blocker, his work ethic and vocal leadership that have often been pointed to most, Spencer isn’t exactly a slouch athletically, either. While the personal numbers might not stand out much on such a loaded offense, he’s averaged nearly 10 yards per touch, he’s thrown for a score and also has a sparkling one-handed grab among his three receiving touchdowns on his résumé this season.
“There's a lot of things I can do on the football field,” Spencer said. “I just try to do everything I can when I'm out there. Whether it's block or throw something or catch something, I try to do it to the best of my ability. I guess the best of my ability is sometimes kind of cool.
“I don't know if it surprises me that people are starting to notice. I go out there and I bust my butt every time I can and I do what I can. I guess I'm glad people are noticing, but that's not my main focus. My main focus is not to make sure everybody else sees it, it's to make sure the job gets done. That job isn't going to be complete until Monday.”
If the Buckeyes are going to finish it with a victory and a championship, there’s no doubt Spencer will have a hand in it.
It may not be as obvious as it was when he took the reverse and delivered a strike to fellow wideout Michael Thomas for a touchdown, or even measurable like his only other entry on the stats sheet, a reception that went for just 7 yards.
It could require watching closely to see just who it was crashing down from near the sideline to take out two defenders, clearing the path and springing a tailback with 85 yards of wide-open turf ahead of him.
But one way or another, the Buckeyes will be leaning heavily on a still-unofficial captain and an unsung MVP.
“The captains of the teams are the guys who are remembered forever,” Spencer said. “And the captains of a team that gets to go to a national championship, those guys have their names kind of written in stone. That would mean the world to me.
“It's good to be getting praised, I guess. It's an incredible honor and I'm going to keep working to make sure that it does happen. But I just try to be a servant to my guys and do whatever I can for them, whatever I can to win games.”
Some guys might make it easier from the outside to evaluate the most valuable player. But inside Ohio State, there’s no doubt who it is.