Texas A&M will face the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2014 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones will take this opportunity on a national stage to show everyone why he is one of the most gifted athletes in college football.
Seals-Jones has had a solid freshman year but has not yet played up to his potential. He has the size and speed to be a dominant player at the college level.
Seals-Jones should be able to use his size to take advantage of the Mountaineers' lack of size in the secondary. He will present an obvious mismatch to the WVU defense, and the Aggie offensive coaches should take advantage of it.
An Elite Talent
Seals-Jones was one of the top recruits in the nation when he signed with the Aggies out of Sealy (Texas) High School. He was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country and the No. 25 overall recruit by 247sports.com.
The 6'5", 235-pound athlete played quarterback and safety as a senior at Sealy High. He missed much of the season with a knee injury but was able to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Seals-Jones tantalized Aggie fans with a 71-yard touchdown reception against Rice in his first collegiate game. He was injured during that game and was forced to take a medical redshirt during the 2014 season.
Seals-Jones has had a couple of nice moments during his redshirt freshman season but has yet to live up to the billing he had out of high school.
Seals-Jones started off 2014 with a bang, catching five passes for 67 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening win over South Carolina. That was his most complete game of the season.
Seals-Jones caught 48 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns on the year. His 48 receptions led the Aggies in the regular season. The issue is that he only averaged 9.2 yards per reception.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital struggled to find a role for Seals-Jones in the Aggie offense, lining him up as a flex tight end but never sending him on true tight end routes. An athlete with his size and speed should be running intermediate routes down the middle of the field, where he can take advantage of mismatches with linebackers ad safeties. Instead, Spavital has him running routes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Seals-Jones takes long strides and is not going to make a lot of defenders miss in space. Spavital's misuse of Seals-Jones contributed to his average season.
The disappointing year by Seals-Jones was not all on the coaches. The redshirt freshman displayed inconsistent hands at times. He had plenty of drops at big moments in multiple games. Seals-Jones will have to work on becoming more consistent with his hands if he wants to be an elite wide receiver.
Bad Matchup For Mountaineers
The West Virginia secondary is undersized. Sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley is the Mountaineers' only starting defensive back who stands taller than 6'0" in height.
With Seals-Jones lining up in the slot, that means that either 5'11" junior safety Karl Joseph or 5'11" freshman safety Dravon Henry will be matched up against him. That six-inch difference in height between Seals-Jones and his defenders should be a huge advantage for the Aggie offense.
With multiple weeks to formulate a game plan, the Aggie offensive coaches should be able to come up with multiple ways to get the ball to Seals-Jones downfield against the smaller defensive backs.
It takes years to recruit an athlete the caliber of Seals-Jones. The Aggie coaches need to utilize the talent available and get some payback on all the hours they spent recruiting Seals-Jones to campus.
They need to feature him against WVU and help him have a breakout game to end his freshman season.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The best quarterback duel of the season is set.
Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks against Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles at the Rose Bowl is just one dream scenario the inaugural College Football Playoff has at its fingertips.
Winston is the face of adversity at this point, no thanks to his up-and-down play this season. The Seminoles love to live on the edge, something Mariota knows little about on his way to what has to be the Heisman Trophy.
There is a spot in the title game on the line this January, although it sure feels like the final game of the postseason already.
When: Thursday, January 1, 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 71
- Spread: Oregon (-9)
Preview and Prediction
It sure feels like a season of destiny for Oregon.
The early-season hiccup by the Ducks did not come in a major showdown against Michigan State. Instead, the Ducks cruised past an elite defense by a final score of 46-27, only to get upended by Arizona about a month later.
Still, Oregon is now free of the Stanford curse thanks to a 45-16 win over the Cardinal. Utah is an afterthought at this point, and the Civil War seems to be on permanent hiatus after a 47-19 decision. Most impressive of all, Mariota and the Ducks are content in the revenge department after a 51-13 thrashing of Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The comeback tour for Mariota is just about complete. His 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns to two interceptions are sure to get him plenty of individual accolades. Do not forget the 14 rushing touchdowns, either.
However, the campaign is all about a title, so what better way to start on that postseason path than to take down the defending champs?
It sure feels like a season of trials and tribulations for those defending champions.
The Seminoles are owners of close calls against Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.), Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.
Most of the problems fall on the shoulders of Winston. He seems to bumble about in the first half of contests, only to pick things up when it matters. Just 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions can attest to that.
Then again, the same is true for head coach Jimbo Fisher's defense. The Seminoles allow an average of 23.0 points per game, good for 30th in the nation. The two-point victory over Georgia Tech this past weekend speaks well enough to the issue—the Yellow Jackets ran for 331 yards and four scores on a 5.6 yards-per-carry average while holding the ball for more than 34 minutes.
Fisher is well aware of how Oregon's quick-twitch attack will only amplify these problems, as captured by Andrew Bantly of DailyEmerald.com:
I don’t know if you can ever practice for the speed. We’re a fast team ourselves but they do it at such a high level and the efficiency is off the charts. They’re unbelievably explosive. Having time, we’ll have time to evaluate a lot of film and go through the process, just like they’ll have on us.
Mariota is at his best when on the move. Some of it is necessity, as a few of his top linemen are on the shelf with season-ending injuries. Part of it is just his supreme athleticism and judgment while in motion.
This is of particular importance in the semifinal. If Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas got loose from under center for 104 yards on just 11 carries, Mariota is in for a big day. Ditto for Tyler Murphy of Boston College, who found 48 yards and a score.
The Oregon offense enjoys controlling the pace of games after an early lead is established. This will especially be the case as Winston on the sideline means the Seminoles offense cannot do serious damage.
With this approach in mind, it is hard to see how the Seminoles can keep pace to the point where the usual late-game surge makes a difference. Almost a month to prepare for the contest may flip the script on its head. However, based on what these programs have shown as of late, Mariota and Co. will have no issue moving the ball at will and keeping the Seminoles at a distance.
Prediction: Oregon 36, Florida State 28
Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The initial College Football Playoff could not have asked for a better matchup to ring in the new year than what it got in the Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State and Alabama are two of the most storied programs in the history of college football. A showdown between the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide means Heisman Trophies, national championships, large and passionate fanbases, future NFL players and rock-star coaches.
It also means a third-string quarterback making his second-career start against Nick Saban with nearly a month of preparation time.
Here is a look at all of the essential information for the prime-time showdown between Saban’s Crimson Tide and Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
When: Jan. 1, 2015
Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Odds (via Odds Shark): Alabama -10, as of December 8
Ohio State and Alabama certainly took different paths to get to the playoffs, which partially explains why the Crimson Tide are No. 1 and the Buckeyes are No. 4.
Alabama was its typical dominant self and only lost one game all season. Among the impressive wins were a 59-0 beatdown of Texas A&M, an overtime win at LSU, a victory over then-No. 1 Mississippi State, a shootout win over Auburn and a blowout of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
On the other side, the Buckeyes have experienced an emotional roller-coaster of a season. The drama began before the opening game when superstar quarterback and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller was lost for the year to injury. Then, backup quarterback J.T. Barrett struggled mightily in a shocking loss to Virginia Tech, and the playoff hopes looked all but dead.
However, Barrett elevated his play above any quarterback not named Marcus Mariota and would have likely been a Heisman finalist were it not for a devastating injury in the win over Michigan.
Somehow, the Buckeyes rose from the perceived dead again and destroyed Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten Championship Game without Miller or Barrett. Third-stringer Cardale Jones lit up the Badgers secondary and won the game’s MVP award as a result.
The cherry on top of all the drama was a tense debate between the Buckeyes, TCU and Baylor for the final playoff spot.
Now that both teams are into the Sugar Bowl, the main storyline will be the clash between Saban and Meyer. The two squared off in SEC Championship Games when Meyer was at Florida and boast more than 300 wins and six national titles between them.
Despite the coaching matchup, the key to the game will be Ohio State’s dynamic offense against Alabama’s stout defense.
ESPN Stats & Info noted something has to give:
This is a clash between the No. 4 scoring offense in the country in Ohio State and the No. 4 scoring defense in Alabama. No wonder this matchup is so enticing.
Ohio State boasts the nation’s No. 11 rushing offense and will likely rely on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, but Alabama’s one potential weakness is its pass defense. The Crimson Tide are 59th in the country against the pass, which means Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall could be in store for big days.
Jones’ biggest weapon in the game against Wisconsin was the deep ball, especially to Smith, and he may need to connect on a few to give the Buckeyes the victory in New Orleans.
The best way for the Crimson Tide to counter that is with a devastating pass rush. Between Jonathan Allen, Xzavier Dickson, Ryan Anderson, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, the Crimson Tide have plenty of rushers to confuse and overwhelm Jones in his second start.
On the other side, Ohio State has to pick its poison when Alabama has the ball.
Meyer certainly understands that, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com:
I see an extremely fast team. They've got the big Power-I, saw a big back (Derrick Henry) running through people yesterday. But the thing that catches your eye is the athleticism and the quarterback (Blake Sims), I guess, played another position, but he looks phenomenal.
And then Cooper is one of the best receivers ever to play college football and they use him at every possible ... they use him as a match-up guy and quick screens, but they obviously ... he's the best down-field threat in the game right now.
Amari Cooper is the best player in college football this side of Mariota, and Ohio State may require multiple defenders shadowing him at all times. The problem is, that would open up the running game for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.
The Buckeyes rush defense has been Jekyll and Hyde all season after giving up more than 200 yards on the ground to Indiana and Minnesota but somehow holding superhuman Melvin Gordon to only 71 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game. Which defense shows up will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the Sugar Bowl.
It will be easier to stop Cooper if the pass rush gets to Blake Sims early and cuts down on the amount of time the dynamic receiver has to get open. That means Joey Bosa, who racked up 13.5 sacks this year, needs to get pressure on almost every play.
The Buckeyes will connect on some big strikes against a vulnerable Alabama secondary and ride Elliott, who just carved up a formidable Wisconsin front seven for 220 rushing yards. This game will not be a blowout by any means, especially since Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have so much time to prepare and get Jones ready.
However, Jones will only be making his second career start and is yet to face any real adversity considering how easy the win over Wisconsin came. Alabama’s defense is the best Ohio State will face all season, and Jones will turn it over in a critical moment in the second half.
Sims and Cooper will make the Buckeyes pay on the other end.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 28
Follow me on Twitter:
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Only two teams opened as double-digit underdogs, as oddsmakers posted lines on all 38 bowl games this week.
Maryland opened as 13-point dogs against Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl, and Northern Illinois was getting 11 points against Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl.
All of the other spreads were tighter, as college football embraced a playoff system for the first time, resulting in a pair of major New Year's Day clashes, with Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon vs. defending champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
The Tide and Ducks opened as solid favorites to advance to the national championship game.
The over/under values ranged from a low of 39 in the Pinstripe Bowl (Penn State vs. Boston College) to a high of 71 in the Rose Bowl. And there are intriguing trends associated with most of the bowls and with many of the teams, such as the 2-10 against-the-spread run by Notre Dame in bowl action.
Opening lines aggregated by Odds Shark:BowlTeamsOpenO/U New Orleans Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette +1 61 New Mexico Texas El Paso vs. Utah State -11 50.5 Las Vegas Utah vs. Colorado State +4 58 Idaho Potato Western Michigan vs. Air Force +3 55.5 Camellia South Alabama vs. Bowling Green -1.5 55 Miami Beach BYU vs. Memphis -1 56.5 Boca Raton Northern Illinois vs. Marshall -11 61.5 Poinsettia Navy vs. San Diego State PK 56.5 Bahamas Central Michigan vs. W. Kentucky -1.5 65 Hawaii Fresno State vs. Rice +2 59 Heart of Dallas Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech -4 61 Quick Lane Rutgers vs. North Carolina -3 65.5 St. Petersburg North Carolina State vs. UCF -3 49 Military Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati -3.5 49 Sun Duke vs. Arizona State -9 59.5 Independence Miami vs. South Carolina PK 59.5 Pinstripe Penn State vs. Boston College -2.5 39 Holiday Nebraska vs. Southern Cal -4 62 Liberty West Virginia vs. Texas A&M +4 OFF Russell Athletic Clemson vs. Oklahoma OFF OFF Texas Texas vs. Arkansas -5 45.5 Music City Notre Dame vs. LSU -7.5 52 Belk Louisville vs. Georgia -7 58.5 Foster Farms Maryland vs. Stanford -13 49 Chick-Fil-A Mississippi vs. TCU -3 56 Fiesta Boise State vs. Arizona -4 69 Orange Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State -7 59.5 Outback Wisconsin vs. Auburn -6.5 61 Cotton Michigan State vs. Baylor -1.5 70 Citrus Minnesota vs. Missouri -6.5 OFF Rose Florida State vs. Oregon -8.5 71 Sugar Ohio State vs. Alabama -9 58 Armed Forces Pittsburgh vs. Houston +2 53 TaxSlayer Iowa vs. Tennessee -3 52.5 Alamo UCLA vs. Kansas State -2.5 59 Cactus Oklahoma State vs. Washington -5 55.5 Birmingham East Carolina vs. Florida -7 57.5 GoDaddy Toledo vs. Arkansas State +1 66
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since arriving at Ohio State in late 2011, Urban Meyer has built a reputation based on his brutal honesty. If a Buckeyes player or position group has been slacking in practice, their head coach hasn't been shy to call them out. When media members ask ill-prepared questions, they soon know about it.
Meyer's bluntness apparently extends to himself as well.
Which is why when he looked at his roster on the eve of the 2014 season, Meyer was realistic with his expectations. Ohio State was ranked fifth in the preseason AP Top 25, but seemed like a long shot to land in the College Football Playoff after star quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the 2014 campaign.
"I wasn't sure this year," Meyer said, looking back on his preseason prognostications. "I thought it might be next year."
Meyer wasn't alone. And with an ugly early-season defeat and eventual loss of another Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, questions followed the Buckeyes all the way up until Sunday's announcement of college football's first-ever playoff field.
But when it was Ohio State that was revealed as the selection committee's fourth and final team, it marked the culmination of one of the most unlikely journeys to the chance to play for a national championship—one that's been more than a year in the making.
'I Want to Help This Team Win a Big Ten Championship'
Preseason polls aren't released until a few weeks before the start of the season, but the initial expectations for Ohio State's 2014 campaign were set inside of a small office in Miami's Sun Life Stadium in the early hours of Jan. 4.
It was there that Miller gave his pledge to Meyer that he'd return for his senior season, instantly making the Buckeyes national title contenders with the mere presence of one of the sport's most exciting and accomplished quarterbacks.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman followed suit, adding security to an Ohio State roster that would already be replacing four starting offensive linemen, the Big Ten's best running back in Carlos Hyde, its top receiver in Corey "Philly" Brown and a pair of future NFL first-round picks in linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby. At first glance, Ohio State's depth chart possessed plenty of question marks, but Miller made it clear that he wasn't coming back to be part of a rebuilding season.
“I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year," Miller said in a statement officially announcing his decision to forego the NFL draft. "Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game."
Cornerstones of the Buckeyes' 2011 recruiting class—former head coach Jim Tressel's last—Miller and Heuerman had seen and accomplished plenty in their time in Columbus. But a conference championship was still missing from each of their resumes.
“As a senior, we just want to go out with a championship," Heuerman said. "That’s something my class doesn’t have to put next to our name.”
If Ohio State was going to do just that, both Miller and Heuerman figured to play key roles in the process. And while each missed spring practice—Miller with outpatient shoulder surgery and Heuerman with foot surgery—both were expected to be ready by the start of training camp in August.
At least that was the plan.
'A Bad Day'
On Aug. 20, Heuerman and the Buckeyes' other captains met with reporters, the mood around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center palpably somber. Heuerman looked particularly spent, his eyes glassed over and tone noticeably dejected.
Just three weeks earlier, the Ohio State tight end had compared Miller's importance to the Buckeyes to that of LeBron James' to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But two days prior, Heuerman learned that Ohio State would be without its LeBron, when Miller fell to the ground after attempting a pass in a non-contact throwing drill.
"I went berserk," Meyer said. "It was devastating. It was a bad day."
The prognosis was a torn labrum in Miller's throwing shoulder, which would require season-ending surgery. The Buckeyes' new starting quarterback would be redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who had been splitting reps with OSU's first-team offense throughout fall camp as Miller struggled to recover from his initial shoulder surgery.
Whether he believed them at the time, Heuerman said all the right things about how there was nobody better suited for the task at hand than Barrett. But even he understood why the the outside perception of Ohio State was suddenly shifting.
"We're not naive to the situation. We understand what happened and what we lost," Heuerman said. "But just like the Cavs, just because LeBron's out, you don't put them out, do you? They've got a lot of other playmakers, so that's kind of the situation we're in. We've got a lot of playmakers and we're going to have to rely on them to make plays.
"Obviously, it's not how you draw it up."
'We Just Gotta Get a Lot Better'
Trailing 7-6 at halftime, the Buckeyes struggled in their season opener against Navy, but ultimately prevailed with a 34-17 victory. But just a week later, Ohio State's worst nightmare was realized, as its inexperience showed up at the most inopportune time.
Hosting Virginia Tech in a prime-time matchup with several prominent recruits and the actual LeBron James standing on the sideline, the Buckeyes were both outplayed and outcoached in a 35-21 defeat at the hands of the Hokies. OSU's receivers failed to get open and the offensive line failed to protect Barrett, who turned in a 9-for-29, three-interception performance against Virginia Tech's dare-you-to-throw defense.
The Buckeyes' playoff hopes weren't dead—although some claimed they were—but they certainly took a significant hit against a Hokies team that would wind up with just a 6-6 record on the season. Perhaps more important than Ohio State's drop to No. 22 in the Top 25 was the vulnerability that it showed, leaving so much uncertain for the 10 games left on the Buckeyes' slate.
"We just gotta get a lot better," Meyer said after the game. "And that starts tomorrow."
'A Young Team Grew Up'
The Buckeyes bounced back with blowout wins over Kent State and Cincinnati, before opening up their Big Ten schedule with lopsided victories against newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. In the span of one month, Barrett went from question mark to potential Heisman Trophy candidate, posting numbers that put him on pace for the greatest statistical season in the history of Ohio State quarterbacks.
"I had a lot of confidence in J.T. I love J.T. He's fun to coach," Meyer said following Barrett's 409-yard, four-touchdown performance against Cincinnati. "He's a guy that has a great demeanor on the sideline. He's a student of the game. He has a great relationship with his coordinator and position coach. He's a product of those around him."
Playing on a sprained MCL, Barrett helped the Buckeyes eek out a double-overtime win at Penn State on Oct. 25, a week before adding another blowout to their resume with a victory over Illinois. Ohio State was suddenly riding a six-game winning streak, but it didn't seem to mean much to the College Football Playoff committee, who ranked the Buckeyes 16th and then 14th in its first two polls of the season.
"While I wouldn't get that excited about Ohio State's placement, we do think that based on the other teams that they've played to this point in the schedule, this is where they deserve to be ranked," playoff committee chair Jeff Long said when the first rankings were revealed on Oct. 28. "Ohio State has opportunities on their schedule to play up."
The first of those opportunities came on Nov. 8.
That date had long been circled on the Buckeyes' schedule anyways, as it marked their rematch with Michigan State from last season's Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans had snapped Ohio State's 24-game winning streak and prevented it from appearing in the national title game, and again appeared to stand in the way of the Buckeyes' postseason goals.
Only this time, it was Ohio State who would make a statement.
Despite heading to East Lansing as an underdog, the Buckeyes played their most complete game of the season, leaving Spartan Stadium with a 49-37 win over the eighth-ranked Spartans. Barrett accounted for 386 yards and five touchdowns, vaulting Ohio State back into the national title picture with its first signature win of the season.
“This is a different Buckeye team than it was early in the season,” Meyer said afterward. "A young team grew up tonight."
After again boosting its resume with a road win over No. 25 Minnesota, the Buckeyes struggled in wins over Indiana and Michigan, but still found themselves ranked fifth by the playoff committee at the conclusion of the regular season. On paper, Ohio State seemed primed to vault into the top four with a win over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, but one play against the Wolverines threw another wrench into the Buckeyes' postseason plans.
Keeping the ball on a read-option on the first play of the fourth quarter, Barrett was sandwiched between two Michigan defenders. When the play cleared, the Ohio State quarterback remained on the ground, as a hush fell over the Ohio Stadium crowd.
"I heard him yell and I ran over to help him up,'' Heuerman recalled. "When I went over I saw his ankle and it wasn't pretty. I just told him, 'Stay down, stay down.'
"It kind of hit me. 'Oh man.'''
After Barrett was carted off the field, it didn't take long for news to trickle in that he had suffered a broken ankle, thus bringing his stellar freshman season to a close. In 12 games, the redshirt freshman broke Ohio State's single-season total offense record (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's total touchdowns record (45), en route to being named the Big Ten's quarterback and freshman of the year.
All of a sudden, it appeared as though Barrett's remarkable season would be held against the Buckeyes in their hunt for a playoff spot, as the committee would now judge them without their most prominent player in the picture. Anything less than a commanding performance in the conference championship—with its third option at quarterback—and Ohio State seemed likely to be left out of the final four.
"I think it's all going to be how we play next week," Meyer said of his team's playoff chances.
The next week would prove to be one of the most trying in program history, for reasons that extended beyond the football field.
On Nov. 30—one day after the Buckeyes' win over Michigan—OSU walk-on Kosta Karageorge was found dead in an off-campus dumpster. The first-year defensive lineman had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound and had been missing for the better part of the previous week after sending a cryptic text message to his mother complaining about concussions.
As a result, Ohio State's weekly press conference felt like a mix between a funeral and investigation, as though in attendance tried to make sense of the tragedy.
"This is the best group of medical people I've ever been around, the way they handle their business and the attention to detail," Meyer said when pressed on his program's handling of concussions.
“I don’t think he’d want for anything like this to hold us back. He was a huge team guy, a huge team guy," left tackle Taylor Decker said while remembering Karageorge. "He wasn’t getting reps in the games and stuff like that but he still loved coming out every day. It wasn’t about that for him. He came out and he helped us and I don’t think he’d want anything like that to hold us back at all by any means."
Cardale, Controversy and Championships
In Indianapolis, reminders of Karageorge were everywhere at the Big Ten title game, from a moment of silence before kickoff to Michael Bennett wearing Karageorge's No. 53 and other players' own individual tributes.
Despite the somber tone around the OSU program for the previous week, the Buckeyes still had a game to play, and faced a tall task as four-point underdogs to the Badgers.
At least, that's how it seemed.
But from the moment the ball was kicked inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Ohio State took command, with quarterback Cardale Jones leading the Buckeyes on a six-play, 77-yard opening drive that culminated with a 39-yard touchdown toss to Devin Smith. Jones would find Smith in the end zone twice more throughout the game, showcasing his cannon-like arm in an MVP performance in what would be a 59-0 walloping of Wisconsin.
"I played with confidence because of the confidence my teammates had in me, the confidence my coaches had in me, my family, close friends, Buckeye Nation," Jones said. "It was very fun, going out there showing everybody what we can do when we all come together as one."
But would it be enough?
Ohio State was 11-1 and the outright Big Ten champion, but entered championship weekend ranked fifth by the playoff committee, sandwiched between Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor. Despite the Horned Frogs' status as the nation's third-place team, they figured to be in a fight with the Buckeyes and Bears for the fourth and final spot, as Alabama, Oregon and Florida State seemed to had already secured their places in the playoff field.
Ohio State's resume seemed to stack up favorably against TCU's and Baylor's, with one more win, an outright conference championship and a dominant performance over a ranked team still fresh on everybody's mind. Still, the playoff selection process was unprecedented, and Meyer admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was nervous on the morning of the announcement.
But when the playoff committee revealed its final four in order at 12:45 p.m. ET—first Alabama, then Oregon, then Florida State—it was Ohio State who laid claim to the fourth and final spot. Given where the Buckeyes stood just 11 months earlier, it was likely as much as it wasn't, after all that Ohio State had been through in 2014.
"It's a long journey," Meyer said after the Buckeyes had been announced for the playoff, a day after the Big Ten Championship Game. "I started seeing it, but I didn't believe it completely until the experience we had on Saturday night."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have had an incredible season. The junior signal-caller is not only the Heisman Trophy front-runner, but he is also two wins away from leading his team to a national title.
Check out all 53 of Mariota's touchdowns in this ultimate Heisman hype tape.
Will Mariota bring home the Heisman?
Check out the video and let us know!
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com