Everyone in Ohio seems to be invested in the Buckeyes, to the point that the town of Oregon, Ohio is quite literally changing its name to support the Buckeyes in the Jan. 12 championship game in Dallas against the Oregon Ducks. Let's take a look at three reasons why the Buckeyes -- who are a perfect 8-0 all-time versus Oregon -- might well capture their eighth national championship in school history.
Coach Urban Meyer labeled his sophomore star, Ezekiel Elliott, "probably the most underrated back in the country." And Cardale Jones has called his teammate the Buckeyes' MVP. Elliott may lack the sheer power of Todd Gurley or the pure speed of Melvin Gordon, but he has quietly amassed a hefty 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Buckeyes this season (averaging 142 yards per game since November). His 6.9 yards per carry rank 15th nationally. Elliott's impact will be even more significant against Oregon because his coach wants to control the game tempo and keep Marcus Mariota and that lethal Ducks offense off the field as much as possible. Jones will likely be under duress, and a good running game is the best friend to any young quarterback, particularly in a game of this magnitude. If Elliott's 230 yards and 2 touchdowns against Alabama are any indication, Ohio State should be in pretty good shape. Oddly enough, he is only the second running back under Meyer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Next Man Up
It seems almost unprecedented for a team to lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season even starts and another right before the Big Ten championship game. But that's exactly what happened to Meyer's Buckeyes with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. After Miller injured his shoulder, redshirt freshman Barrett took over for him under center. Barrett, who had been en route to breaking several school and Big Ten records, then suffered a fractured ankle against Michigan. That left Cardale Jones, who had thrown a mere 14 passes as a collegian, to handle Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. He tossed 257 yards and two touchdowns, then followed it up with a strong Sugar Bowl performance against heavily favored Alabama. Jones is a towering 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, with a cannon of an arm that teammates say is as impressive as they've ever seen. He will have to keep pace with Heisman winner Mariota and the Oregon offense, but suddenly -- and perhaps surprisingly -- that doesn't seem like such a crazy endeavor.
The Urban Effect
Few head coaches -- maybe Nick Saban is the only other one -- evoke the fear and respect that Meyer commands. Since coming to Columbus in 2011, he has lost just three games -- and he himself has admitted that he didn't think this success would have been possible considering the slew of marquee injuries. Remember, the Buckeyes were 6-7 the season before the 50-year-old Meyer joined, which had been their first losing season since 1988. Meyer, in classic Meyer form, has catapulted this program from a plodding Big Ten offense with a soft defense into a team that mirrors the SEC West with equal parts speed and power. Just look at his sensational defensive end Joey Bosa. The beastly 6-foot-5 Bosa, just a sophomore, was a unanimous All-American, tying for second in the country among Power 5 defenders in total quarterback pressures, according to ESPN The Magazine.
Now, click here for three reasons Oregon might prevail over Ohio State.