A new college football playoff system crowned a traditional champion Monday.
Ohio State defeated Oregon 42-20 in the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
In capturing its seventh national championship by a major wire service or BCS — and now playoff — Ohio State used a balanced offense and a defense that would not be rattled by Oregon’s up-tempo offense led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Buckeyes’ triumph also thrusts coach Urban Meyer into an elite status. He captured his third national championship, and joined Nick Saban as the only coaches to win titles at two universities. Meyer won two as Florida’s coach in the previous decade.
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The Buckeyes, 14-1, looked nothing like a national champion in September, when they lost at home to Virginia Tech by two touchdowns. But they got better throughout the season, roared to the Big Ten championship and handled an Oregon team that was nearly a touchdown favorite.
“This goes down as one of the great stories in college football history,” Meyer said
Late in the season, there was no guarantee the Buckeyes would be part of the new four-team playoff. The selection committee was persuaded by the team’s overwhelming victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, and the fourth-seeded Buckeyes validated that choice by rolling to the title.
Ohio State, 14-1, overcame a sloppy third quarter, when two turnovers allowed Oregon to get back in the game.
The Buckeyes turned to their stud running back Ezekiel Elliott, who bulled for 246 yards and four touchdowns in 36 carries, and got another stunning performance from quarterback Cardale Jones.
Operating behind a rugged offensive line, Jones’ amazing story concluded with a national championship in his third career start.
Jones took over when starter J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the season finale against Michigan and engineered a finish that included a Big Ten championship-game victory over Wisconsin, a triumph over top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a confetti shower and podium trophy presentation as national champion.
But the Buckeyes had to clean up their mistakes or the championship would have slipped from their grasp, just as the football did. Ohio State committed four turnovers.
The two miscues in the first half didn’t cost the Buckeyes any points. The Ducks wasted no time scoring after the first mistake in the third quarter, a deflected interception by linebacker Danny Mattingly.
Mariota found Byron Marshall streaking down the middle of the field and hit him for a 70-yard touchdown. Instead of the Buckeyes perhaps landing a knockout blow, their lead was now 21-17.
The second turnover conjured the spirit of the Rose Bowl, when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston lost control of the ball while falling backward, resulting in an Oregon touchdown.
This time, the ball slipped from Jones’ hand and was recovered by Oregon. The Ducks didn’t get a touchdown, settling for Sean Nuernberger’s short field goal that made it 21-20.
But that was as close as Oregon got. Ohio State played error-free football the rest of the way, and the scarlet-clad Buckeyes fans who made up about 60 percent of the 85,689 at AT&T Stadium, could smell victory as the fourth quarter unfolded.
Oregon, 13-2, lost in a championship game for the second time in five years. The Ducks fell to Cam Newton’s Auburn team in the 2010 BCS title game.
The game couldn’t have started better for the Ducks, who ran their offense to perfection on the first series, zipping down the field and seemingly leaving defenders dizzy.
But Ohio State answered on its second possession, and it was definitive.
Oregon had pinned the Buckeyes by downing at punt at the 3, and two plays yielded 2 yards. A failure here, and the Ducks probably would have wound up with excellent field position and the momentum with the lead.
But on third down, the offensive line gave Jones plenty of time to find Corey Smith on a deep out for a 26-yard gain. For the first time in the game, Buckeyes fans had something to cheer, and it wouldn’t stop.
The drive’s next big moment came when Ohio State reached the Oregon 35. On fourth and 2, Jones flipped a pass to Jalin Marshall, who strained for the first down and got it by 6 inches.
Two plays later, Elliott introduced himself to the game. Elliott, a St. Louis product who gained 450 rushing yards in his previous two games, motored 33 yards for the tying touchdown.
It was only one touchdown drive, but the feeling had changed. Ohio State’s confidence swelled, so much that the next touchdown drive that covered 46 yards took a mere four plays and 87 seconds. Elliott’s 17-yard run set up Jones’ 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Vannett at the pylon.
At that point, it seemed only the Buckeyes could stop themselves, and that’s precisely what happened, with Ohio State losing fumbles on its next two possessions in Ducks territory.
But Oregon could not take advantage. The Ducks drove to the Ohio State 3, and on fourth down remained true to their nature by going for it. The ball went up the middle to Thomas Tyner, who got 2 yards before he ran into a wall of Buckeyes.
The Ducks had passed up sure points, and a few minutes later Ohio State added to its lead with Jones’ 1-yard run.
Oregon, which sailed 75 yards in 11 plays to open the scoring, lost chances early when its receivers dropped passes on successive drive-killing third -down plays. On the second, Dwayne Stanford might have picked up about 35 yards.
A team that ranked fourth in the nation in picking up 51 percent of third downs, went two of 11 on Monday.
Against an Ohio State that was only stopping itself once it started scoring, Oregon could not afford to surrender any opportunities.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.