"You just never can devalue the chemistry on a team, the closeness of a team."
-Urban Meyer, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com
Ohio State is playing in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Team chemistry is a big reason why. The Buckeyes have dealt with a disproportionately large amount of adversity in 2014, including the loss of multiple starters -- quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, and defensive star Noah Spence among them -- not to mention the tragic death of walk-on Kosta Karageorge. Were the Buckeyes a team to rely on individual stars, this might have been an insurmountable set of circumstances.
"We're truly a family, we've been through so much together, and I mean, it's going to take a lot to tear us apart," said Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has quietly put together a 1,400 yard season on the ground, replacing a good chunk of the yardage the Buckeyes lost when Carlos Hyde left for the NFL. "All we have is each other, and we're going to keep this whole brotherhood together, keep grinding and keep pushing," Elliott added.
Urban Meyer has done an admirable job coaching this team into such a fearsome unit despite facing the loss of some of the best individual players on the roster. The Buckeyes truly are a complete team, one for whom "Next man up" is less a PFT Commenter-esque trope than an actual fact of life.
"Once a unit that was repeatedly pointed to as the weakest on the roster by coach Urban Meyer, the targets in the passing game have developed into a strength and finally allowed Ohio State to find the balance it wants offensively."
-Alex Scarborough and Austin Ward, ESPN.com
On Christmas Eve, two writers from ESPN broke down the tale of the tape for Ohio State and Alabama. With the matchup now less than a week away, they had a lot to say about each of these two brilliantly talented squads.
At first glance, it seems like Alabama would have a clear advantage in the receiving department. After all, they do boast Heisman finalist Amari Cooper in that capacity. No doubt Cooper will give the Buckeye secondary fits. But could Ohio State's receiver corps actually be deeper than Alabama's? Between the resurgence of Devin Smith, the steady hands of Michael Thomas, and the talent of tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, the Buckeyes have plenty of talent to sling the ball to.
Another intriguing comparison comes in the form of each team's offensive and defensive lines. What happens in the trenches could very well determine the outcome of the Sugar Bowl. Both Ohio State and Alabama have incredibly talented o-lines who keep their quarterbacks upright, and equally scary defensive front fours who make life miserable for opponents. There's first-round talent aplenty in these units, and whichever can get the bigger push might win the game for their team.
"When you win 12 games, there are a lot of high points. But none were higher than the 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game."
-Tom Dienhart, BTN.com
The Big Ten Network's "Season in Review" feature on Ohio State is worth checking out. It does a good job of breaking down Ohio State's biggest moment -- the victory over the Badgers -- and its lowest point, the early-September loss against a middling Virginia Tech squad. It's worth being reminded just how bad things looked after that defeat, when J.T. Barrett took seven sacks and went 9-29 passing. That was the Buckeyes' third loss in four games after winning the last 24, and the scene in Columbus was far from cheerful.
Enter J.T. Barrett. The redshirt freshman, and his offensive line, got their act together in a big way for the remainder of 2014. The Buckeyes did not lose again, and Barrett was named the Big Ten QB of the year. Barrett threw for a ridiculous 34 touchdowns and notched another 11 on the ground, good enough to break Drew Brees' conference record for touchdowns in a season. Defensive end Joey Bosa certainly did his part, as well. Dienhart's reflection recounts the myriad ways in which Bosa contributed this season, mainly by being one of the most prolific pass-rushers in the country. If Ohio State are to upset Alabama on Jan. 1, Bosa will need to be an integral part of it.
"I was a little surprised when they went so quickly. But that's Buckeye Nation for you."
-Brett Scarborough, assistant athletic director for ticketing at Ohio State
Ohio State's allotment of 13,000 tickets for the Sugar Bowl sold out within 24 hours after their sale date on Dec. 7. That's down a full 4,000 seats from what Ohio State was allotted through the Bowl Championship Series in previous years, and some fans aren't happy that they were unable to get tickets through the university this year as they had in previous years.
"There were some people who were understanding, and some who were irate," Scarborough said. It's understandable, given how difficult it is to find decently-priced tickets on the secondary market. The average price for Sugar Bowl tickets at TiqIQ.com, a ticket site, is a full $375. The cheapest they offer (according to site director Chris Matcovich) comes in at $193.
Still, Buckeye Nation will be out in New Orleans in force on New Year's Day. Buckeye fans are understandably excited to see Urban Meyer and co. attempt to clinch a bid to the national title game, and the fact that they have to travel considerably farther than Crimson Tide fans seems not to be a deterrent in the slightest.