Ohio State' road to a second straight national championship is a different one than those that have come before them. They are the first champion of the new College Football Playoff, and it just so happens that they return most of the talent from what was a dominant team at the end of last season. Although they return a bunch of talent, repeating after winning a title is a tall order under the best of circumstances, and thanks to the format of the College Football Playoff, this repeat job will be the hardest in college football history.
In the past 20 years, there have been three teams that have won back-to-back national championships, Nebraska in 1994-95, Southern California in 2003-04, and Alabama in 2011-12. All three teams faced different, and challging circumstances to accomplish their feats, but those challenges, or those of any other previous repeat champ, pale in comparison to what this year's Ohio State Buckeyes will need to accomplish.
The 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers did not play a conference championship game, as the Big Eight Conference did not form into the Big 12 until 1996. Don't get me wrong, what the Cornhuskers did in the mid 90's was nothing short of amazing. To win 26 games in a row from 1994-1996 is a great accomplishment. But do the Cornhuskers accomplish this in either a BCS or College Football Playoff? The task would have arguably been more difficult. For instance, the 1994 team played the third-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl to give them a national championship, as opposed to being able to face second-ranked Penn State.
The 2003-04 USC Trojans systematically had it tougher than the Cornhuskers, back when it was believed that the BCS would crown a "true" national champion every year. In the BCS world, rankings would have greater consideration when it came to automatic bowl bids, and the top two ranked teams would square off for the national championship. The system was put in place to have an undisputed national champion, and to eliminate shared titles. Oddly enough, the Trojans shared the 2003 title with LSU, who won that season's BCS title game, the Sugar Bowl. The Trojans bounced Michigan in the Rose Bowl that season, which was identical to the situation Nebraska found themselves in the 90s. In 2004, however, they faced Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, who they rolled over with a team that would be favored to win the 2005 title, only to fall to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns in what was one of the greatest national championship games ever played.
The Alabama Crimson Tide faced a tougher task in their championship seasons of 2011 and 2012. Although the 2011 team did not play in the SEC Championship, they still faced LSU in the BCS National Championship game, similar to that of the USC teams almost a decade earlier. On the other hand, the 2012 team indeed played in the SEC Championship game, and would go on to dominate Notre Dame in the BCS title game. Having that conference championship game adds another tough opponent that previous repeat champions never had to face. That, on top of the BCS title game, makes for arguably two games of a higher difficulty that would not have been seen in prior years.
This brings us to today's Ohio State Buckeyes, and the current College Football Playoff. Nearly all conferences have expanded to the point where they all have championship games. The Big 12 is currently the only Power 5 conference that does not have a championship game, after Mizzou and Texas A&M bolted for the SEC, Nebraska for the Big Ten, and Colorado for the Pac-12. Last season, the Buckeyes not only had to win their conference championship game, but they also faced the SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, and then the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl winners, the Oregon Ducks.
The Buckeyes faced nearly a month off from the Big Ten championship game, until the Sugar Bowl. As it has been discussed in the past, this has arguably derailed previous teams' quest for a championship, repeat or not. On top of that, after winning said game, both Ohio State and Oregon had 11 days off in which to rest, where both teams would ideally be at their best, considering they both beat a top opponent, they have a few extra days to heal up, the ability to better carry momentum into the next game, and give their opposition their best game. The 2014 Buckeyes were able to prove that their talent was enough to overcome that to become the first truly undisputed national champions.
The 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes will face one factor that all repeat champions in any sport across history face. They will get everybody's best game every time they step onto the field. If things go as expected, postseason play will be a great measure of the historical significance of this team. There is also one factor that the Buckeyes will face that no other repeat champion faced on its road to their second title (or their first, for that matter), and that is media attention. Not only are there more sports networks now than there have ever been, but social media keeps the conversation going almost non-stop. The talk of a Buckeye repeat has been going on since the national championship game ended. There is no doubt that has an affect on a team of young, and connected athletes.
If the Buckeyes are able to sweep the Big Ten championship game, and the College Football Playoff for a second straight season, I have a hard time believing that their repeat would not be the greatest of all-time, considering the steps that must be taken to complete said repeat.