DALLAS — Two years and five days ago, Urban Meyer rose, dressed, scarfed down some breakfast and reported to work. It was game day. It was the biggest game of ’em all. It was the national-title game, and Meyer had a job to do — as an analyst for ESPN.
Before Alabama’s 42-14 wipeout of Notre Dame, Meyer strode the field at Sun Life Stadium in Miami and soaked up the championship vibe. He pulled out his phone and texted four words to all of his players and coaches:
“The chase is on.”
Meyer had led Ohio State to a 12-0 finish that season. Those Buckeyes were outstanding, obviously, but they were ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA violations committed under Meyer’s predecessor, Jim Tressel. Truth be told, those Buckeyes weren’t of national-title caliber anyway. They wouldn’t have beaten Alabama. Oh, no. Not yet. Notre Dame? Well, maybe. Not that any of it matters now.
“That was the moment, that’s the driving force, why we get up every day,” Meyer said here on Sunday, a day before Ohio State’s meeting with Oregon in the first College Football Playoff championship game (7:30 p.m., ESPN). “And I just wanted to somehow share that experience with our players. And now we are.”
The chase has led the Buckeyes to a historic night in Arlington, Texas. They’ve gotten significantly better since Meyer’s first season; significantly more talented on both sides of the ball. So much so that a quarterback, Cardale Jones, who was a third-stringer five months ago will be taking the snaps on Monday against the Ducks and isn’t even perceived as a weak link in the Buckeyes chain. Some wonder: Is there a quarterback on another Big Ten team who’s better than Jones? It’s a fascinating question.
But let’s pause here: Oregon — 13-1, same as Ohio State — is a great team. If there was any doubt about that before the Rose Bowl, it was blown to bits by the Ducks’ 59-20 destruction of defending champ Florida State. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is a transcendent quarterback and leader, and don’t look now but the pedal-to-the-metal Ducks have gotten pretty feisty on defense, too.
To be sure, this is an enormous test for the Buckeyes.
But they were underdogs against Michigan State in East Lansing in November and won convincingly, 49-37, outscoring the Spartans 28-3 over the decisive stretch of that game. They were underdogs — almost unfathomably now — against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game yet, 59 unanswered points later, what a sick joke that point spread turned out to be.
More understandably, they were big-time dogs heading into the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, the standard-setter of the college game. The Crimson Tide led 21-6. Then it was 21-13 and 21-20. And then 27-21 and 34-21. It was part of a 36-7 run — does “run” work in football? — that was so shocking, so impressive, so thorough that it’s frankly odd that this full-on-peaking squad is on the wrong end of the Las Vegas line. By six points, to boot.
The chase? It’s on. And it’s almost over. Soon enough, the rest of college football will be chasing the Buckeyes. They win, 37-31.