"The Big Ten championship game? It's completely erased from my memory. ... To me, in my mind, it's like that game never even happened. Obviously Ohio State had our number that game, but I wouldn't be able to tell you about it because I completely erased that from my memory." -- Vince Biegel, Wisconsin linebacker, 2012-16
Thirty-seven days before Ohio State lifted the inaugural College Football Playoff trophy, the Buckeyes traveled to Indianapolis as 4.5-point underdogs preparing to hand a third-string quarterback his first collegiate start.
Cardale Jones, who had begun the season No. 3 on the depth chart behind now-injured starters Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett (and had 17 career pass attempts), would be pressed into service on Dec. 6, 2014, at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten championship, a game OSU had to win to keep its seemingly fading CFP hopes alive. The Buckeyes did that and then some, moving from No. 5 in the CFP rankings into a coveted position in the top four thanks to a 59-0 dismantling that virtually no one -- from Ohio State, from Wisconsin, or in the CFP committee room -- saw coming. In the aftermath, the Buckeyes would march toward a piece of college football history, while the fallout for the Badgers -- who had entered the day ranked No. 13 and in the hunt for a New Year's Six bowl game -- would instead center on an unforeseen change at head coach.
With Ohio State and Wisconsin set for another key matchup in their series on Saturday -- an installment that again figures to have league-title and CFP implications -- we asked several of the key participants from the 2014 Big Ten title game, as well as members of the CFP committee, to tell ESPN what they remembered about a game that stunned observers and led to one of the most controversial and difficult decisions the committee has had to make in its short existence.
Part I: 'I was the last quarterback left'
Ohio State, at least in the court of public opinion, had been eliminated from the playoff discussion back in Week 2, following a stunning home loss to Virginia Tech. On that night, injured three-year starting quarterback Braxton Miller watched from the sideline with his right arm in a sling as his replacement, J.T. Barrett, threw three interceptions.
Ohio State hadn't lost since.
Then, late in the regular-season finale win against rival Michigan on Nov. 29, Barrett broke his ankle, creating a ripple of uncertainty as Ohio State's fate in the postseason hinged on the arm of an unproven quarterback playing against the Big Ten's No. 1 scoring defense. Even in a win, would a shaky performance from Jones keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff field? It was a legitimate concern.
Cardale Jones (Ohio State, quarterback, 2012-15): If a guy gets carted off the field, what are you going to do? Who's going to start over me? I was the last quarterback left.
Urban Meyer (Ohio State, head coach, 2012-18): I was very concerned that, you're down to your third-string quarterback, would they keep us out because they didn't think we could compete? I mean, how many teams do that?
Bill Hancock (CFP executive director, 2012-present): I think we all just thought, "Let's see what happens." Somebody told me that [Jones] was pretty darn good, but we were all just waiting to see what happens. There wasn't any speculation about what if this, what if that.
Luke Fickell (Ohio State, co-defensive coordinator, 2005-10, 2012-16): Everybody was worried. We had the new quarterback in and, God bless Cardale ... but Cardale was a gunslinger at the time. He hadn't played a whole lot. Cardale could've thrown interceptions, too. He was going to keep slingin' it, that's just who he was.
Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State, running back, 2013-15): We had a lot of great players all around, and he had a lot of good players around him. I knew he could play, I knew he was skilled. I knew he had a great arm, but just really didn't know what to expect going into the game.
Meyer: I've never seen a transformation so fast ever from an individual. That was overnight, that transformation where he started taking everything so serious. His preparation for that week was as good as I've ever witnessed.
Jones: I never started, that's why. I didn't have certain obligations. I always prepared like a starter, but I wasn't getting reps. [OSU offensive coordinator] Tom Herman put in that mindset like a starter, which, you know, I did. The only thing that was different was I was having a chance to play.
Devin Smith (Ohio State, wide receiver, 2011-14): I mean, everything was just on point from just each day at practice, to the walk-throughs, to the jog-throughs we had before the game. And when we were in the hotel the night before the game, we could just feel the energy in the room, how everybody was just so focused, so locked in, just like, attacking this game and making sure that we come out with a victory. The previous year we played at Michigan State in the Big Ten [championship] and lost, so I know that right there was in the back of everybody's mind, and game time came, everybody was fired up and ready to go.
Michael Thomas (Ohio State, wide receiver, 2012-15): We knew what we were playing for. We knew we were playing for an opportunity to play in the first College Football Playoff and to compete for a national championship and prove what type of team we were. So we were pretty excited going into there -- no matter who was at quarterback.
Michael Caputo (Wisconsin, safety, 2012-15): I would say a lot of the guys on the team underestimated a third-string quarterback coming in. Once you start to get past the second-string guy, the line starts to get thin. You don't really know what you're going to get. We figured that he was not going to use his arm a lot, or they weren't going to really try and use his progressions to try and beat us. It was going to be on the ground or just chucking the ball up in the air, which is what they really got away with when they did it. We prepared as if we would've played J.T. Barrett, basically.
Meyer: We had a very distinct game plan, and that was to keep the ball outside the hashmarks because excitable young quarterbacks, when they get excited and the adrenaline is flowing, they overstride and throw the ball high. We did not want to turn the ball over. They had [Melvin] Gordon, and obviously a really good team, so we just wanted to -- I don't want to say play it safe -- but if you overthrow a ball on the outside, it goes out of bounds.
Dave Aranda (Wisconsin, defensive coordinator, 2013-15): One of my big errors going into that game was all of the film we put on the previous week of defending the other quarterback the week prior [a 34-24 win over Minnesota]. Our plan was too similar. It's always one of those things, where in that given week, do you go with what got you there, or do you change it because it's on tape? I remember just sitting around the table going, we could try to do something else, but it gets to that point to where, man, we played well, we've gotten to this point, the defense, we've never faltered. Let's just do what we do. I struggle with that still some.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Ohio State would have to deal with Gordon, a Heisman Trophy finalist who would enter the day with a dazzling 2,260 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the season. Gordon hadn't been held under 100 yards in a Big Ten game, was three weeks removed from a 408-yard, four-touchdown day against Nebraska, and had racked up 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in the previous month alone.
Fickell: It's funny because Coach, probably three weeks prior was ahead of the time and saying, "Hey, we're going to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, and the only way we can stop them and their running attack is to play Bear defense." We still have three regular-season games left, and we're like, "Well, Coach, we don't play Bear defense. If you think that's the only way to stop them, we're in trouble. So he kinda made it that we'd better start working on some Bear defense. ... We had one or two things in, Bear-wise, for those games, never really used them, used them a little bit in the Michigan game, but had prepared to see what it is we could do when we faced Wisconsin and that running attack and Melvin Gordon. We got done the last game, and we're going to the Big Ten championship, he came in, and I said, "Coach, I don't feel comfortable playing Bear. We can stop him without it. We implemented it the last few weeks, and I don't think it's what we need to do." He said, "OK, whatever you guys think, but you better be able to stop him."
Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin, running back, 2011-14): We knew it was going to be bad going in. We had a lineman playing with a torn triceps. We had another lineman with an MCL. And I forgot what the other lineman had. We only had one healthy lineman, which was Rob Havenstein, he went in the second round with the Rams. So we knew going in we were beat up. Our coach had told some of the players like, "There's a good chance we won't make it out of this." So I knew going in it was going to be tough.
Part II: 'We had to win with style'
As the teams prepared to face off in Indianapolis, the College Football Playoff selection committee was settling into its meeting space at the Gaylord Texan resort in Grapevine, Texas, to take in the day's games and consider the fate of both Ohio State and New Year's Six hopeful Wisconsin. Included in the committee gathering was Barry Alvarez, the legendary former Wisconsin coach who was now serving as the university's athletic director. Alvarez would not be permitted to plead Wisconsin's case for a New Year's Six bowl but would understandably have a vested interest in the day's games.
Jeff Long (College Football Playoff selection committee chair, 2014): It was the first time voters sat and watched games together. That was remarkable in new ways because we had Coach Alvarez, who had a team we would be watching.
Gene Smith (Ohio State, athletic director, 2005-present): My normal routine, I don't really get nervous around games. I get anxious for games to start because of all the pregame activities I'm involved in. I'm like, "OK, let's get this thing going." I was on the field pregame, and then I went to my suite.
Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State, linebacker, 2014-16): Crazy part was there was no speech. Coach Meyer walked us to the locker room before the game and told us, "Let the dogs loose, let the dogs off the chain." Then we went out there and put it on them.
Vonn Bell (Ohio State, safety, 2013-15): We had to win with style. We had a team meeting about that. We knew what we had to do.
On the game's first drive, Jones set the tone for the day by marching the Buckeyes 77 yards on six plays in just 1 minute, 59 seconds, culminating in a 39-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith.
Jones: It was an empty formation. I motioned Zeke [Elliott] out to the right. He was supposed to run a little hitch route, like 5 yards and then stop, but somehow he ran a go-to. It should have been three receivers to the left, one receiver to my right and motion Zeke outside of that receiver. Devin Smith was that one receiver originally to my right. I motioned Zeke outside of that receiver, so it pretty much got our matchups -- Devin Smith on a fly route on the guy we wanted to get him matched up on. But it was so funny because Zeke ended up running a fly route, too, so it was more guys down there. Devin made a great catch, and it was amazing, and we were running down to the end zone and giving him high-fives and then running back.
Aranda: Early in the game, they fake a quarterback run and hop out and throw a shot, and they get us one-on-one and beat us. At that point, right away, we're noticing, hey man, they're taking advantage of the fact how we're playing the safeties.
Joe Schobert (Wisconsin, linebacker, 2012-15): And then Ezekiel Elliott had a big run right away, I think. (Elliott ran for an 81-yard touchdown later in the first quarter, making the score 14-0.) And was it Devin Smith catching some big passes from Cardale, catching some deep shots? (Smith caught TDs of 39 and 44 yards in the first half.) We were playing man coverage, and we had a good position, and he was just making all the plays.
Bell: We knew what he could do. We knew he could sling it.
Jones: It was just fun. That was the first time I really had a chance to play since high school. I was knocking off some cobwebs early in the game, but things started to slow down a little bit, and the jitters started to go away, and it was just a good time.
Aranda: The poise of that quarterback was crazy in that moment. I'm sure the emotion of that game -- and the defense was rolling and the offense was rolling -- the confidence can build pretty quick. He was feeling it. I think in that first half, I don't know if we touched him.
Jones: It wasn't no coach, it wasn't nothing outside of the players I was playing with that motivated me or pushed me. I didn't do it for anybody but the guys I was playing with.
Eli Apple (Ohio State, cornerback, 2013-15): I knew [Cardale] had the talent. But he was going crazy. It's tough to say I anticipated that.
Jones: I was just playing so loose and so free because I was surrounded by a great group of guys. Starting from the guys up front, to the guys I was throwing the ball up to. One of the guys I could hand the ball off to has been the rushing leader in the NFL for two of the last three years. What really helped me for sure was having an awesome running game and a lights-out defense as well.
Wisconsin's offense, on the other hand, was not having similar luck. The Badgers' first seven drives of the first half: five punts, two turnovers, zero trips inside the red zone.
Tyquan Lewis (Ohio State, defensive end, 2014-17): They had a huge O-line and a premier running back in Melvin Gordon, and we just knew it was going to be a huge challenge to stop them. I remember all week we weren't calling many stunts because zone teams, you don't want to run side to side with them. You want to get penetration and attack them. That's all we did the entire game, get a bunch of penetration. We beat them to their spots.
Bell: It was early in the game. I had the first [interception]. ... it was around like midfield. It was a momentum-shifter. After that, everyone was going crazy. And then Joey [Bosa] scored off a scoop and score.
Fickell: We had them backed up, we were being aggressive. Some people are just around the football. I don't remember what the call was [that led to the fumble], I don't remember what really happened, I'm not even sure who knocked it out. I just know that there's an opportunistic guy who plays really hard and generated some big momentum for us.
Gene Smith: [Bosa] was just a beast out there.
Gordon: They were on a roll, they were on that little streak and we just didn't have the guys up front to block Bosa and those boys. We were just too banged up.
Aranda: At 14-0, maybe 21-0 at that point where it's pretty obvious that that's what the plan is. So now we change the safeties and get 'em back and play it just straight up, normal and kind of get back to where it's just basic and not cheating the box. After that, we still kind of struggle. I think some of our guys are shook at that time. What's happening?
Caputo: They challenged us with some blocking schemes up front, just small little details the viewer at home wouldn't really see, but in the film room it changes the whole game plan and the way you have to scheme up a team. Those small little changes, if he steps here or he steps there, it can open up a gap to where Ezekiel Elliott can take it 60 yards down the field as opposed to getting stopped for 2 yards.
Meyer: If you go back and look, most everything was outside the hashmarks. Wisconsin cooperated. They kept playing us in man-free. The preparation was incredible. I didn't ever foresee that.
Aranda: I think about the second quarter, we're going three-and-out, we're struggling to stop anything, zone runs that typically we close on and stop are now 6-, 7-, 8-yard gains. Our head coach talks about, "Dave, why don't we run this? Why don't we run that?" So we start running like fire zones and pressures that frankly we'd never run all year, but they were kind of pressures that he ran in his career. He [introduced] them in fall camp, and it was probably since then that we ran them. So we're on the sidelines going, "Hey, Coach wants to run these, we're putting these in." It was a complete wreck, a complete wreck of a game.
Caputo: It's not easy having a team rack up the score on you, especially being as stout of a defense as we were in the Big Ten. We stayed with the game plan, we stayed with the scheme, we did our jobs and we kept playing the entire time. I don't think we ever gave up.
With Ohio State ahead 38-0 at halftime, there was little doubt about the game's outcome. But the Buckeyes remained very aware of their standing in the College Football Playoff race, and Meyer knew they couldn't afford to coast to the finish. The committee (including Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, you'll remember) was still watching with interest from Grapevine -- and everyone in the Ohio State contingent knew it.
Apple: At halftime, we kind of noticed, "All right, let's keep our foot on the pedal and secure that spot." Because nothing was guaranteed. ... You gotta keep it going and try to get more of those brownie points.
Meyer: We're out in front, and you get that dilemma. Sportsmanship becomes a factor, but you also have to make a statement. The way I've always looked at my job in my career is I work for my players. If they deserve a chance to go play in this playoff, we need to make it a resounding win. I'm not saying we kept everybody in too long, but that was one of the first times in my career I was ever aware of the score.
Little changed for either team in the second half. On Ohio State's first drive of the third quarter, Jones connected on his third touchdown pass to Devin Smith, a 42-yarder, to push the score to 45-0. Freshman Curtis Samuel, who later became a decorated wide receiver at OSU, added two rushing TDs. Wisconsin's offense continued to struggle, with Gordon (26 carries, 76 yards) a nonfactor, and Badgers QB Joel Stave (17-of-43 passing, 187 yards) throwing two of his three interceptions in the second half. The Badgers never finished a drive inside the Ohio State 20-yard line.
Gordon: It was a blowout. You can't change it for the world.
Apple: Shoot, just a complete massacre.
Aranda: I look back at that, if we had not played Minnesota the week prior, if we had not played them and not implemented that plan, I think that plan versus Ohio State has more success because it's not smack dab right in the middle of their face, here's what these fools are gonna do.
Elliott: I mean, honestly, they just didn't have enough athletes to compete with us.
Curtis Samuel (Ohio State, running back/wide receiver, 2014-16): That was back in my old days as a running back. [The TDs were] both run plays. I was sawing some people up. I was young, but I was good.
Fickell: To see those guys who were starters that were so into it because they wanted to preserve that shutout, to see them up, screaming, cheering and trying to coach up the guys that were on the field because they were driving a little bit there at the end with an opportunity maybe to put some points on the board, to see those guys and what they were doing, not just because other guys had an opportunity to play, but because it was a shutout -- they were so into it. They weren't worried about anything else. They weren't celebrating, they were just so in tune because they put so much into, "Can you stop Melvin Gordon?" They were so into it; that, to me, was the greatest memory.
Aranda: When you play Ohio State, it's kind of the personification of the other. These guys are not like us. These guys get everything, we have to work for everything. That's the thought. You could see the frustration in all of it on their faces on the sideline, and I know our head coach felt it, too.
Long: I don't speak for Barry, but I'm sure it was hard. When you're an AD, you're all-in with your team and they're playing for the Big Ten championship. Because we had all become so close, we all felt for Coach Alvarez, but he's the class man that he is. He's a football guy. It was hard on him, you could sense it was hard. It would be hard on any of us watching our team lose a game. Barry's a professional, and he handled it like the true professional that he is. (Alvarez declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Gene Smith: I felt somewhere in the third quarter we had a shot to be in the final four because of our performance, and then when we ended it the way we did, putting up 59 points, I didn't know how we would not be in it.
Biegel: True story, that game happened and we didn't even watch the film on it. We burned that film up. So I couldn't even tell you much detail.
Aranda: After that game, I was just in a daze. I never changed out of my coaching gear, so I've got my game plan still in my pants. I'm on the sideline and I'm walking with the fans through the indoor walkway to the hotel and they're celebrating, talking this, saying that. It was pretty brutal. I get to the hotel where we're staying and I remember taking the escalator, riding up, and I get to the very top and there's my family and my kids, I have two little girls and a boy and they all run to me and they go, "Papa, that was horrible." I go, "I know; let's go upstairs to our room."
Hancock: I just remember being so impressed with Cardale Jones and thinking, "Wow, he can play and he can lead that team," and that Ohio State was fortunate to have him. The outcome of the game was surprising to every single college football observer. Then I remember thinking, "OK, the committee's got to go to work."
Part III: 'Two somebodies are going to be left out'
Heading into Saturday, the committee had TCU ranked No. 3, Florida State No. 4, Ohio State No. 5 and Baylor No. 6. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon had both won their conference title games in blowouts and were considered safely in the field. No. 3 Florida State had struggled to put away Georgia Tech in the ACC championship but was a perfect 13-0 and would be extremely difficult to leave out. The Big 12 had no conference championship game, so TCU's final impression on the committee was a 55-3 drubbing of a 2-10 Iowa State team. Baylor punctuated its résumé with a 38-27 victory over No. 9 Kansas State. And then there was Ohio State, which began the interminable wait for the field to be announced.
Gene Smith: Came back from Indianapolis that morning, Sunday morning. Drove back, changed, went over to Urban's house. It was a kitchen that kind of flows into a small living room. You can stand in the kitchen and see the TV, so there were people standing around a kitchen counter. It's interesting how the kitchen island is where people hang in everybody's house. That's where all the snacks were. It wasn't a huge crowd, 20, maybe, but it was mostly family and neighbors.
Meyer: Like every old dude I guess has his own chair, I have my chair in front of the TV, and [my wife] Shelley made some breakfast. Our neighbors stopped over, our kids were all there. ... I just tried to go through every scenario in my mind without really talking to anybody. TCU and Baylor were the other two teams.
Steve Wieberg (College Football Playoff selection committee member, 2014): (speaking in 2018) I had this knot in my stomach that kept growing as the championship games were playing out and this scenario was becoming a reality, and it's hitting me that somebody is going to be left out. Two somebodies are going to be left out. This is a big deal.
Long: It was just an intensity, one hot spotlight, first-ever 12 people making a decision. It was palpable in the room. It was a tense situation, tense conversation all with the underlying feeling by everybody in that room, we've gotta get this right for college football.
Hancock: There were three -- Ohio State, TCU and Baylor -- and some questions about Florida State, even though they were undefeated. There was spirited debate, and there were lots of factors. Cardale Jones was one of many factors. Florida State having struggled was a factor, combined with being undefeated. Baylor-TCU, with Baylor having won the game and TCU playing a slightly stronger schedule. There were many factors the committee considered.
Long: I remember a lot of discussion in the committee room following the championship games about the new measure that entered our discussions, the conference championships, and that's where the Baylor and TCU situation really magnified itself. What was discussed was, we didn't have a Big 12 champion, we had two co-champions.
Meyer: I thought Gene would have some kind of insight, and he came walking through the door, and I looked at him, and no one said anything.
Gene Smith: He had some people there and he was sitting in his chair right in front of the TV, looked at me, and said, "What do you know?" I said, "Oh, we're in." He's like, "Whaaat?" I said, "I don't know." I was just teasing him, trying to get him to relax.
Jones: I didn't watch it. I was driving back to Cleveland that day and was going to see my family and friends. We were off the next couple of days. My phone was blowing up while I was listening to music. I put it on silent because it kept interrupting the music I was listening to.
Fickell: I was at a basketball tournament on Sunday not wanting to watch or listen or hear anything. People in the crowd were the ones who ended up telling me we made the playoff.
Gene Smith: We were just standing around, and as soon as the selection show came on, everybody locked in, and it was a huge scream, yell, whoop when it was announced. It was high-fiving and hugging, and I hugged [Meyer] and congratulated him and worked the room and got out.
Jones: I ignored one or two calls and then I saw the ESPN thing come across my phone finally and it was saying Buckeyes will square off against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. I wasn't even thinking it was the freaking playoff. I started returning calls. I was like, "Oh, this is why everybody's calling me."
Long: For Ohio State to get that against that Wisconsin team certainly made a difference in a lot of our minds. ... It was hard. It was very difficult. We all struggled with it. When we looked back at the criteria that was given to us, that's what we relied upon.
Art Briles, Baylor head coach, 2008-15: (from Dec. 7, 2014) My opinion, since people are asking? I think the committee needs to be a little more regionalized with people that are associated with the south part of the United States. I'll say that. I'm not sure if there's a connection on there that is that familiar with the Big 12 Conference. To me, that's an issue.
Gary Patterson, TCU head coach, 2000-present: (from Dec. 7, 2014) It's one of those things if you didn't want to be disappointed, you need to be undefeated. It's the only way you can control your own destiny and we didn't do that.
Part IV: The aftermath
For Ohio State, the rest was history. The Buckeyes would justify their selection by defeating Alabama (42-35) in the Sugar Bowl, then routed Oregon (42-20) in the inaugural CFP title game in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin, meanwhile, would have to settle for the Outback Bowl. But by the time that game arrived, the Badgers would be down one head coach. On the Wednesday following the Big Ten championship, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen stunned his team and most around college football when he announced he was leaving for Oregon State. He was 19-7 in his two seasons at Wisconsin. AD Barry Alvarez would name himself head coach for the bowl game, guiding the Badgers to a 34-31 overtime win over Auburn.
Caputo: We met as a team briefly right after the game, and [Andersen] told us we battled. Obviously the score was what it was. That's the kind of the speech he gave us, he absorbed the blame for a lot of things. I remember that, and he told us we fought our tails off. That's just who he is as a coach, who he is as a person. I disagree, I think that we had a good game plan, but we failed to execute on a lot of stuff. He did his job extremely well.
Aranda: Two days right after the game, he didn't show up to work. I kind of knew something was up. He didn't show up on Sunday or that Monday. He showed up on Tuesday. He walks in, he goes, "Dave, I just took a job at Oregon State. I'd like you to come. I'm going to talk to the team about it. We'll talk later." He just walked out. You could tell he was under a lot of stress. It's crazy. (Andersen declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Leon Jacobs (Wisconsin, linebacker, 2013-17): Coach Andersen canceled a practice that Wednesday and was like, "Hey, we have a surprise team meeting." I was like, "OK, what is this about?" Because he was coming back from New York with Melvin [for the Heisman Trophy ceremony] and then his first words were like, "I don't know if you guys have heard or not, but I'm leaving for Oregon State." And his son [Chasen] was on our team, so I'm like, "This is an April Fool's joke." And it wasn't.
Biegel: Those were interesting times at Wisconsin. I got recruited from Bret Bielema. Coach Andersen came in, brought in Dave Aranda. Loved Coach Aranda, I loved Andersen, too, but he kind of recruited a different type of player. It wasn't a good fit for him. There was a lot of things behind the scenes that happened -- and they parted ways.
Gene Smith: Gary announced he was leaving, so then I started to think back to what happened there? Did something, was that team prepared the way they should have been prepared? They were a really good football team. I thought we'd win, but I was shocked we dismantled them, so I wondered, was there something going on in coaching that caused that team not to be ready? And then he announced. That's just a guess. I have nothing quantifiable to prove that. I knew we were good, we were really good, but it was mysterious we beat them the way we did.
Schobert: Yeah, it was kind of surprising. You never know what's going on in situations like that. Especially as a college kid, you don't really think about it that much.
Andersen (Dec. 12, 2014): I had an opportunity to coach some unbelievable young men the last two years, and the last four years prior to that. But I know, as I've gone through this for many years, that when you sit back and see from afar a program -- the coaching world is not as big as you'd think it is -- [Oregon State] was always a place where I thought, "This fits us."
Schobert: Looking back, you'd say, "I don't know what was going on" -- it's just kind of a haze. But then we were able to, Coach Alvarez came in for the bowl game and we were able to get a win against a good team, so ended the year right, at least.
Caputo: As much as I've tried to put that game as deep as I can far back in my memory, it goes to show the beginning of an era for Ohio State. They were a tremendous team that year. They really had some dudes. They were a team, they were a unit pulled together. Third-string quarterback and they go win the national championship. That was awesome. It's good to have a representative like that from the Big Ten on the national stage in the first college playoff.
Gene Smith: The game catapulted us into where [Meyer] could continue to recruit at that level -- understanding the championship allowed him to recruit at that level and recruit the best because people want to play at that level, and it was the inaugural championship -- so there was a lot to sell, along with what we already were selling. Then we had guys who were going pro. We had a lot of things to sell, and Urban took advantage of that with his staff. So it meant a lot to be on that platform in the first year because of everyone watching it, from our championship game in the Big Ten to the semis to the finals. Our kids were on display, our program was on display and it benefited us in a significant way.
Five years later, Meyer has given way to his former offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who has the undefeated Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff mix once again. Following Andersen's departure, Alvarez hired Pitt coach and former Badgers tight end Paul Chryst, who is 48-13 in five seasons -- but has yet to knock off Ohio State. Saturday will mark the Badgers' first matchup against the Buckeyes since a 27-21 loss in the 2017 Big Ten title game, which derailed the Badgers' own College Football Playoff hopes. Wisconsin has recovered as a program, but some of the scars of Dec. 6, 2014, remain.
Biegel: I've been super pumped with Coach Chryst coming in and having success there. I still keep in touch with all three coaches. I have a lot of respect for them all, but I think Wisconsin is in good hands now with Coach Chryst.
Gene Smith: I've always had a high regard for Paul. I thought he did an excellent job at Pitt. So for them to bring him back home and revive the system that Barry was so successful with, I thought that was an unbelievable hire. They're a top-of-the-pyramid program, there's no question.
Joey Bosa (Ohio State, defensive end, 2013-15): They just lost to Illinois. What the hell? That's not a game. That's my answer. I'm not worried.
ESPN NFL reporters Todd Archer, David Newton, Michael DiRocco, Mike Triplett, Jake Trotter, Mike Wells, Eric D. Williams and Cameron Wolfe assisted with interviews for this project.