NEW ORLEANS — While he cracked a half smile as he said it, Urban Meyer’s words after finding out the score of Oregon’s semifinal matchup with Florida State held significant meaning.
“I gotta go,” the Ohio State coach said when told that the No. 2 Ducks shellacked the No. 3 Seminoles, 59-20. “We gotta go get ready for that one.”
Jokes aside, the No. 4 Buckeyes are set for just 11 days of preparation for a College Football Playoff National Championship clash with Oregon after beating No. 1 Alabama, 42-35, Thursday in the Sugar Bowl.
OSU finds itself with a shot at a national title to cap off a tumultuous season that saw Heisman candidate and senior quarterback Braxton Miller go down with a season-ending injury just 12 days before the first game. By week two, the Buckeyes had already suffered their first loss of the season, and by the end of the Michigan game had lost a second Heisman candidate in redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who broke his ankle in the win.
After the win over Alabama, senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said the Buckeyes showed up in New Orleans with the title game already on their mind, and added he and his teammates won’t struggle to stay focused.
“We played this game to play the next game, so I think everybody’s minds are already on the next game,” Bennett said. “I don’t think it’s gonna be hard to refocus people. Guys didn’t see this game as the big time, we saw this game as the next step.”
For OSU to even have a shot at that next step, it had to overcome a series of adverse circumstances. Outside of the week two loss to Virginia Tech — and the injuries to Miller and Barrett — the Buckeyes played the Big Ten Championship Game less than a week after learning of the death of teammate Kosta Karageorge.
On the back of redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, OSU beat Wisconsin, 59-0, to pick up the conference title before toppling to top-ranked Crimson Tide at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It is definitely unreal from the situation I was in to the situation my team was in,” Jones said after the Sugar Bowl victory. “I mean, beginning of the season into the middle of the season and then now.”
And with the win against Alabama, Jones said he and his teammates earned a moment for celebration, but the time to get back to work is just around the corner.
“Tonight I think I’m just gonna see my family a little bit and go to sleep,” Jones said. “And then when we get back to Columbus, do a little film work but not dive into it too hard, because we’ve got a nice layoff until we play them (Oregon). But this is how our preparation has been all year, so we’re not gonna change anything we do.”
Jones added that the Ducks’ convincing margin of victory against Florida State won’t change the Buckeyes’ game plan when it comes to preparing for the title bout, but he added the team will still take note.
“It’s just impressive,” Jones said. “A team to go out there and beat a great team like Florida State.”
With the result of the Rose Bowl in mind, Bennett was quick with responses like “speed” and “fast paced” when asked what stands out about the Ducks, but he added that the Buckeyes can match Oregon’s athleticism.
“I think we have the same speed as them, but their tempo is hard to prepare for, so that’s going to be the biggest thing,” Bennett said. “But once you prepare for it and you’re ready for it, I mean it’s just another team.”
But even if OSU can think of Oregon as “just another team,” the Buckeyes are set to be underdogs for the third consecutive game when the two teams match up for national bragging rights, and Bennett said his team is ready for that.
“I’m sure somehow we’re not gonna be good enough and we’re gonna be underdogs,” he said. “But that’s how it goes, so we’re just gonna go out there and play the game, and see what happens.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on the Ducks on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.