Like a quarterback going through his progressions, sizing up which of his receivers to throw the ball to, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith stood outside the Buckeyes’ locker room after the Sugar Bowl, trying to find the right word to describe how he felt about the new College Football Playoff.
“It’s really good. It’s awesome. It’s perfect,” Smith said. “I like it. Why wouldn’t I? We’re in it and we’re winning.”
Ohio State’s 42-35 win over No. 1 Alabama was one of the biggest wins in school history. It seemed like that as it happened. It will still be looked at the same way years from now.
Now the chance for an even bigger win is in front of Ohio State (13-1) when it takes on Oregon (13-1) in the College Football Playoff national championship game in AT&T Stadium in suburban Dallas on Jan. 12.
The path to that game started with a lot of talent — on the field and also in the coaching staff. But resiliency, growth and team chemistry also played big roles.
Ohio State in September could not have taken down Alabama, a football program which always thinks its next national championship is as inevitable as Apple coming out with a new iPhone. But Thursday night, it did.
Who could have imagined losing two Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacks and rolling out a third QB, Cardale Jones, who had never seen the field with a game in doubt, and scoring 101 points in his first two starts? It happened.
The offensive line had four new starters. It was patched together with two former defensive linemen and a supposedly undersized center. It looked awful in giving up seven sacks in OSU’s only loss of the season against Virginia Tech. And it outplayed Alabama, just like it had done against Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Like the offensive line, the defense made big improvements from the beginning of the season to now.
In a season where important players like Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Noah Spence and Dontre Wilson were lost to injuries or suspension, OSU kept finding replacements.
And when a troubled walk-on, Kosta Karageorge, committed suicide the week of the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes remained strong.
As the lower-seeded team in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State will be wearing its road uniforms on Jan. 12.
If you have been paying attention, you know that means nothing, other than that Oregon gets the chance to concoct the boldest fashion statement possible from its collection of 237,000 possible uniform combinations, or whatever the number is.
Ohio State has gotten to the championship game by winning four games against ranked teams away from home since Nov. 8.
Since then, the Buckeyes have beaten No. 8 Michigan State, No. 25 Minnesota, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 1 Alabama.
Ohio State is 37-3 in Urban Meyer’s three seasons since he was hired when Ohio State went 6-7 in 2011 after the forced resignation of Jim Tressel on Memorial Day of that year.
Meyer has delivered exactly what Ohio State was looking for when it hired him. If not for NCAA sanctions left over from Tressel in 2012 and one bad quarter against Michigan State in 2013, OSU could be playing in a third straight national championship game.
Tressel’s Ohio State teams played in three BCS national championship games, winning against Miami in 2002 and losing to Florida in 2006 and LSU in 2007.
Meyer and Tressel both were successful because they had plans and an incredible fire. The difference, though, is that it was like Tressel kept his fire burning in a fireplace in a paneled den deep inside his house where only a few people got to see it and Meyer puts his in his grill in the backyard where everybody can see it.
One more win and Ohio State can go from fire to fireworks. It can go right past pretty good, right past awesome and declare this season perfect.