It's games like last night that make years and years of fanhood worthwhile. Ohio State is the first ever College Football Playoff national champion.
The Buckeyes took down three consecutive Heisman Trophy finalists en route to the title, saving the best -- Marcus Mariota, a real-life video game boss -- for last. Mariota threw for 333 yards and two scores, which was by far the best attempt of the three, but even those numbers weren't enough to take down the fearsome Buckeyes. To quote heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth," and that's exactly what Ohio State's ground game and defense did to the Ducks on Monday night.
The Buckeyes did everything they needed to do, short of avoiding turnovers, and it's insane that this game could have been even more lopsided had Ohio State protected the football more effectively. To only allow 20 points despite giving the ball away four times to a top-tier offense is a testament to both the tenacity of the defense (Adolphus Washington) and the chess-match big-game playcalling of Urban Meyer and Tom Herman. There was a moment -- okay, there were lots of moments -- when it looked like this one was going to get away from Ohio State, despite their impressive early lead. When Cardale Jones did his best Jameis Winston impression and fumbled the ball away without being touched, it seemed like a loss was almost predestined. But it wasn't to be. The Buckeyes, like they have all year, rose to the challenge and shook off the mistake, along with all the others.
There will be a full-season Stock Market Report coming down the line, but today is all about the 'ship. Let's break it down:
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: How does he keep doing it? In case anyone wasn't paying attention, that's 696 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games. Four of those TDs came last night. Those three games, the biggest of the year, were Elliott's true coming-out party. Cardale Jones was as good as he needed to be, but it's hard to imagine this Cinderella ending without Elliott (and his "slobs" up front) absolutely eviscerating the opposition on the ground. Zeke is a joy to watch on the football field, his family travels well and travels loud, and he's got abs to match his smile. HEISMAN 2015!
Cardale Jones, QB: This has to be the craziest story of college football's last... decade? Half-century? Century? Jones was regarded as little more than an immature, unpolished quarterback, known more for his infamous tweet than his ability to win games. Needless to say, that analysis was a little premature. A third-string quarterback being thrust into the midst of all this, having to follow in the footsteps of a brace of award-winning teammates, and somehow making his team better -- making them champions -- is something you don't see every day. Or every millennium, really. Jones is a great story, a great guy, and one of the best things that's happened to this program in a long time. He could never play another snap of football and he'd still go down in history. Here's to you, 12 Gauge.
Darron Lee, LB: The Sugar Bowl's defensive MVP didn't let up off the gas for the biggest stage imaginable. A two play sequence defined Lee's contributions to this team: after eating the lunch of an Oregon tight end to blow up a running play in the backfield (which could have otherwise gone for fifteen or twenty yards), Lee made a ridiculously athletic play in pass coverage to force Oregon into an unmanageable situation. Lee camped out in coverage, then leapt high and almost reeled in Mariota's pass with one hand. Even without the INT, it was a crucial pass breakup. Whether he's doing it for the peers or his teammates, Lee is a bad, bad man on the football field.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator: Cue up Anna Kendrick's "Cups": We're gonna miss Herman when he's gone. The offensive coordinator/resident wizard is gone for the pastures of Houston to take his first shot at a head coaching job. Is it too early to handicap the Cougars as a playoff team for next season?
Joey Bosa, DE: Bosa was a problem on Monday night. He's been that way all season. He didn't rack up his typical world-wrecking stats, but the Ducks' offensive line still struggled mightily to contain the future first-round pick. His last hit on Marcus Mariota banged up the quarterback badly enough to impact the remainder of the game, and the amount of double teams and bad blocking attempts he forced materially changed the gameplan for the ordinarily high-flying Oregon offense. We are so, so lucky to have him back for another season.
Michael Thomas, WR: Four catches. 53 yards. One ridiculous juke move that would have you crying foul if it happened in a video game, much less real life. Keyshawn Johnson's nephew has had a phenomenal year, leading the Buckeyes in catches, and his downfield production has been excellent. He showed up in all the right places on Monday night, and made the plays that mattered.
Protecting the football: Hard to be overly critical after a title win. I'll bail out on this section after one more sentence. You cannot turn the ball over four times (on three unforced errors!) and expect to win a game, but that's just how this team rolls, I guess.
BUY: Ohio State vs. Heisman Trophy finalists. Three up, three down, see ya. Anything can happen, but at this point it seems crazy to imagine next year's Heisman field not including at least one Buckeye, right?
BUY: The Next Man Up. Injuries. Tragedy. Adversity. This team overcame all that and more, and it would be impossible to be more proud than we already are.
SELL: The conversation about who starts at quarterback next season. LA LA LA LA YOU CAN'T MAKE ME TALK ABOUT IT