DALLAS — First came Wisconsin. That was the one that convinced Urban Meyer that Ohio State could be a contender for a national championship.
Then came Alabama and the end of the Southeastern Conference’s domination of the college football landscape.
Finally, there was Monday night’s 42-20 win over Oregon and its high scoring offense that produced a national championship for Ohio State. A national championship that came with a third-string quarterback and only seven seniors in the starting lineup.
So, inevitably what comes next is the question of what comes next.
Ohio State will start next season ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. And the expectation it will return to the championship game will be with the Buckeyes every step of the way from now until there is a reason to believe they can’t do that.
That’s the nature of football at the level Ohio State plays. That’s seemingly built into the DNA of football fans.
But before all that happens, what this year’s OSU team achieved should be celebrated.
Urban Meyer came to Ohio State to win championships. Ohio State brought him to Columbus to win championships.
Monday night’s was his third national championship. To see him build a team capable of winning it all is no surprise.
But Meyer and his coaching staff didn’t just build a national championship caliber team this season, they rebuilt it. At least two or three times.
Replacing a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback once was surprising. Twice was amazing.
Turning an offensive line that was one of the weakest parts of the team into a dominating group in two or three months ranked up there with never missing a beat at quarterback.
Finding playmakers at linebacker and in the defensive backfield to go with a powerful defensive line and building a defensive unit vastly different than 2013’s big-play vulnerable group was also part of the equation.
“Our whole team got better, especially the defense. We struggled a lot at the beginning of the season. We just overcame all the obstacles we faced,” All-American defensive end Joey Bosa said.
Meyer built a team that was stronger, tougher and as fast or faster than Oregon, Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan State and eventually everyone else on OSU’s schedule.
Then he added another element, maybe the element that sets him and Ohio State apart. Every successful coach is relentless. But Meyer takes relentlessness to another level.
“We went through a lot. We went through a lot of adversity. It was truly a grind. The off seasons were insane. They put us through so much stuff to make us mentally strong and physically strong to get us to this point and it all paid off,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said.
After Monday night’s game, Meyer was asked what surprised him most about this year’s national champions.
“A to Z. There is so much. What surprised me from Week 1 to now, we don’t have time to go through it all,” he said.
Meyer’s best teams combine toughness and speed. Maybe nobody was a better combination of those two elements during the Buckeyes’ stretch run than sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott.
He ran for 220 yards in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, gained 230 yards in a 42-35 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and carried 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns against Oregon.
“He’s amazing. He really is,” senior wide receiver Evan Spencer said about Elliott.
Elliott will be back to continue being amazing at least one more year. He thinks Ohio State can be right back where it was Monday night next season.
“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,” he said.