For most of the season, the Virginia Tech game haunted Ohio State. No matter what the Buckeyes did the rest of the season, that ugly week two loss looked likely to derail their hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff.

For most of the season, the Virginia Tech game haunted Ohio State. No matter what the Buckeyes did the rest of the season, that ugly week two loss looked likely to derail their hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff.

Only one team, Florida State, went undefeated this season, so it wasn't as if a single loss disqualified any team. But Virginia Tech, battered by injuries, stumbled to a 6-6 record, magnifying the stain of that 35-21 Hokies win in the Buckeyes' home opener.

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But thanks to a 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State did earn the final spot in the four-team playoff. As the Buckeyes prepare for a national semifinal in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama on Jan. 1, the perception of the Virginia Tech game has changed.

No longer is that loss viewed as a ball and chain weighing down the Buckeyes. Now that defeat can be viewed as the spark for Ohio State's remarkable rise.

"We grew together as the season wore on after the loss to Virginia Tech," quarterback J.T. Barrett said on Urban Meyer's radio call-in show before the Big Ten title game. "We went out there and had the mindset of getting better each and every day - not trying to do too much, just play within yourself, play with each other, rely on each other and trust that everyone would do his job. Fortunately for us, it worked out."

The Ohio State team that will face Alabama is much different from the one that Virginia Tech flummoxed, and not just because Cardale Jones has replaced the injured Barrett.

The Hokies confused a Buckeyes offensive line featuring four new starters. Virginia Tech used defensive coordinator Bud Foster's sophisticated, blitz-heavy scheme and sacked Barrett seven times.

The Ohio State defense, playing its first conventional offense after dealing with Navy's triple option in the opener, had trouble stopping Virginia Tech on third down.

But the Virginia Tech loss did much more than expose Ohio State's X's and O's deficiencies. Though many of the current Buckeyes starters were not regulars on the 2012 and 2013 teams that won 24 straight regular-season games, they had come almost to expect such success.

In mid-October, redshirt sophomore Tyvis Powell acknowledged the effect of that mindset.

"Winning all those games before and going undefeated in those seasons, it made you think it was going to happen, you're going to go 12-0," he said. "But now that we've suffered a loss, it's definitely humbled me and made me go back to my work and grind to be better so it doesn't happen again."

Powell said that the loss gave the Buckeyes no margin for error.

"That's why we've been practicing so hard lately, because we want to get back into that conversation," he said. "So I would say it's great motivation to the team to know we're not in the top of the conversation. It makes us practice harder so we can get in that conversation."

By November, the Buckeyes had worked their way back into the playoff picture. The offensive line jelled. Barrett became a Heisman Trophy contender.

Ezekiel Elliott developed into a workhorse running back after being held to 33 yards on eight carries against the Hokies. Redshirt freshman hybrid back Jalin Marshall, who did not touch the ball against Virginia Tech, emerged as a game-breaking talent.

Even as the Buckeyes kept winning and inched their way up the playoff rankings, it looked like the Virginia Tech loss would still keep them out.

Then came the Big Ten championship game.

Now more than three months after the fact, it's clear that the Virginia Tech loss wasn't the end. It was the beginning.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch