ARLINGTON, Texas — Not many people expected the Ohio State football team to be standing at the podium on the winning side of the National Championship at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Not even coach Urban Meyer.
“To say we had this vision back in September or even August, not a chance,” Meyer said. “I thought this was a team that would battle and battle and find a way to win a bunch of games.”
Despite that, Meyer said the challenge he posed to his team at the end of the 2012 season is now finished.
“The chase is complete. These guys accepted their final mission and did it. It was our final mantra the past few weeks and I’m very grateful for the work these guys put in,” he said.
En route to completing Meyer’s challenge, OSU tied an NCAA Division I record and school record for wins in a season with 14 and doing it after losing senior quarterback Braxton Miller and then redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to injury.
The man who replaced Barrett, redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones, led the Buckeyes to three straight wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to help OSU to its eighth national title, and the first since the 2002-03 season.
Jones threw for 242 yards and accounted for two touchdowns in the victory.
He said after the game that the feeling is something he couldn’t even imagine.
“It’s even better than I thought. It’s an unreal feeling,” Jones said. “The seniors never could win a bowl game in four years. This is for them.”
One of those seniors, wide receiver Devin Smith, said after the game that he told himself when he was getting recruited that he would have a chance to play for a title in his time as a Buckeye.
“It means a lot. I’m really at a loss for words,” Smith said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I think here pretty soon it is just going to hit me like, ‘Damn, we just did it.’”
Leading the way for the Buckeyes in their 42-20 title game victory over Oregon was sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for a national championship game record 246 yards and four touchdowns.
Elliott, who was awarded Offensive Player of the Game for his performance, said after the game that overcoming adversity brought the season full-circle.
“It means everything to us, winning the National Championship after everything we went through this season,” Elliott said. “Losing Braxton, then losing to Virginia Tech and how we rebounded against that … then losing J.T. It seems like we’ve been through everything, and it made us who we are.”
It wasn’t just the loss of two Heisman hopefuls or the death of a teammate the Buckeyes had to overcome — they also had to overcome hurdles in the game, like four turnovers in order to defeat the Oregon Ducks and Heisman Trophy winner redshirt-junior quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee said after the game that he told his teammates his side of the ball would be the reason the Buckeyes would come out on top.
“I told these guys in here, ‘DWC: defense wins championships,’” Lee said. “To hold a team like that to 20 points, it’s huge.”
OSU senior wide receiver Evan Spencer, whom Meyer has repeatedly called the team’s MVP despite a statistical lack of production, said after the game that he is honored to receive such praise from his coach, especially now that the Buckeyes are national champions.
“Honestly I was just thinking about that,” Spencer said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, unbelievable accolade. This is amazing.”
Despite graduating the likes of Spencer, senior tight end Jeff Heuerman and senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett, Smith said he believes the Buckeyes will continue to be successful under Meyer.
“The future is very, very bright for this program. It’s left in the right person’s hands with coach Meyer and how good of a coach he is,” Smith said. “I really think he is going to lead this team to greatness. It’s just going to keep going.”