Youth leads the Buckeyes to title

Ohio State's Title Run Unprecedented (1:48)

Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit break down Ohio State's victory over Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship. (1:48)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Attention, everyone who thought Ohio State couldn't win the national championship this season. We have company. Make room on the bandwagon of doubters. There are some guys working in Columbus who saw what we saw.

"To say we had this vision back in September or even August, no, not a chance," Urban Meyer said. "I thought this was a team that we could battle and battle and find a way to win a bunch of games, and then a year later go make a run at it."

A year later? Duh -- half of the Buckeyes' starters are sophomore or freshmen. You don't send 19-year-olds onto the field to play 22-year-olds in a sport as physical as football.

"Long story short," Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones said, "we weren't supposed to be here."

A year later is now. The Buckeyes won the College Football Playoff on Monday night, smashing Oregon 42-20 with the combination of toughness and speed that has been the signature of Meyer's teams in a 13-year career that has produced three national champions.

That was a sophomore, Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns and won Offensive Player of the Game. But here's the stat that tells you the story of the game: Elliott had 36 carries and lost yards on just one.

That was a sophomore, safety Tyvis Powell, named Defensive Player of the Game, who led the Buckeyes with nine tackles. That was another sophomore, defensive end Joey Bosa, who spent the second half in the Oregon backfield and sent the Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, to the bench for a play in the fourth quarter.

You could make a case that the new postseason format called for a new champion. The Ducks, with their fast tempo and designer threads, have been the cutting edge of the sport for five years. But the Buckeyes reminded everyone that, no matter how the champion is decided, nothing has changed about how the game is decided.

When you peel away that fast tempo and the misdirection and the zone reads and all the rest of the bells and whistles of modern college football, the game is still about physical dominance. Controlling the line of scrimmage means one group of men moved the other out of the way. The bigger and stronger and faster team controlled the game Monday night, so much so that it could afford to give the ball away four times.

To the traditionalist, winning with turnovers sounds like alchemy. Orlando Pace, the Hall of Fame offensive tackle who played for Ohio State two decades ago, stood on the field at AT&T Stadium after the game, watching the Buckeyes celebrate on the stages that had been rolled onto the turf.

"This may go down as the greatest coaching job in the history of college sports," Pace said. "How many times have you seen a third-string quarterback win a national championship?"

Six weeks ago, no one outside of the state of Ohio knew Jones existed. But the redshirt sophomore, who took over for J.T. Barrett, who took over for Braxton Miller, threw for 242 yards and a touchdown. Jones threw one interception that wasn't his fault and lost one fumble that definitely was.

But he came back from his mistakes, a trait this team has demonstrated all season. Meyer builds teams on a culture of toughness. Actually, "toughness, grittiness and grindness," strength coach Mickey Marotti said, creating a word.

If there is a team built for overcoming self-satisfaction, the scourge of all defending champions, it is this Ohio State team. The Buckeyes overcame too much this season -- including the tragic death of a teammate late in the season -- not to understand what kind of hard work is needed to win.

"This year was a great year to learn a lot of things," said Elliott, who rushed for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, "and I think we'll be the same team next year. As long as we stay humble, we grind hard in the offseason, don't let our heads get too big, I think we'll be here next year."

Whatever momentum Jim Harbaugh had begun to generate in That Team Up North over the past two weeks just got run over like it was the Oregon defensive front. As of Monday night, there is Urban Meyer and Ohio State and there is everyone else. That goes for the Big Ten. That goes for the whole country.

Hey, after that victory, maybe even TCU fans will admit that the Buckeyes should have been the fourth team in the College Football Playoff field.

"We knew all we needed was a chance," offensive tackle Darryl Baldwin said. "We were able to show the world what we could do. That's all we could ask for."

Baldwin is that rarity in the Buckeyes' locker room -- a senior. He played for three head coaches. Only seven seniors start for Ohio State. But the coaches rave about their leadership. Take wide receiver Evan Spencer, who didn't catch a pass Monday night. Spencer made 15 catches in 15 games this season. But he blocks and he runs his routes and he blocks some more.

"I just go out and try to work my ass for the guys next to me, every day in practice and every day in a game," Spencer said. "I try to be as selfless as possible, and when my number is called, I try to make a play."

Asked to assess what the Buckeyes would be like next season, the season that they are supposed to contend for the national championship, Spencer smiled.

"Frightening," Spencer said. "Frightening, because we're pretty damn good now."