Just when I thought I had seen it all, along came this phenomenal 2014 Ohio State football season, the greatest I have ever witnessed.

Just when I thought I had seen it all, along came this phenomenal 2014 Ohio State football season, the greatest I have ever witnessed.

In 30 years of covering the Buckeyes, I had seen the unexpected, undefeated national championship run in 2002; a cycling of the bully status in The Game from decidedly Michigan back to now decidedly Ohio State; misses at other national titles; and various scandals, including the tattoos-for-memorabilia matter that brought the first bowl ban in team history way back in 2012.

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I wrote way back because it seems so long ago after this third season under coach Urban Meyer. Just like that loss to Virginia Tech way back on Sept. 6 - as it turned out, this season wasn't about what just happened but about what was going to happen. Or as our staff-produced book on the season proclaims, it was all about Next Man Up. Such as:

• On Aug. 18, quarterback Braxton Miller - the two-time Big Ten MVP - suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Up stepped redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. By the end of the regular season, Barrett had accumulated several OSU records and had acquired enough recognition to finish fifth in the Heisman race. But it would not be his season to finish.

• The offensive line, with four new starters, was beaten soundly by Virginia Tech. The next week, those same five easily handled Kent State. It was a revival that resonated throughout a 13-victory run to the championship, the piece de resistance the carving of Alabama's front seven.

• In preseason camp, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, heir apparent to power back Carlos Hyde, suffered a broken bone in his left wrist. With what amounted to one arm tied behind his back, Elliott cozied up more and more to the fast-maturing offensive line, so much so that by the end of the postseason, he was the toast of college football.

• Sophomore Michael Thomas emerged as a playmaking receiver a year after taking a redshirt season in his second year to get his act together. By season's end, what school had a more potent receiver foursome in the nation than Ohio State with Thomas, with his aggressive moves to the ball, selfless senior Evan Spencer, with his devastating blocks, Jalin Marshall, the hybrid back who delivered plenty of big catches down the stretch and senior deep threat Devin Smith, who never met a defense he couldn't embarrass?

• Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman dealt with injuries most of the season that hampered his effectiveness. Up stepped junior Nick Vannett, who had two drive-sustaining catches against Alabama and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a catch against Oregon.

• Many knew of the potential of the defensive line, with Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, which awaited suspended all-Big Ten performer Noah Spence for the third game to become whole. But Spence's suspension evolved into a nullification after another failed drug test, which made senior Steve Miller the fourth. How appropriate to see Miller have the play of plays for a defensive lineman, a touchdown off an interception against Alabama.

• No player that fans had seen in 2013 seemed capable of filling the void left by linebacker Ryan Shazier. That's because they hadn't seen Darron Lee, who redshirted. Starting with a fumble returned for a touchdown against Navy, fans watched Lee rise until by season's end, he wasn't just a replacement, he was a brute.

• Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell became a stable safety duo under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. But it was Eli Apple ripening as the new starting cornerback across from senior Doran Grant that completed the secondary. Fitting, then, that on the last play of the season, Apple picked off Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.

• When Barrett suffered a broken right ankle in the fourth quarter against Michigan, the hush that fell over Ohio Stadium was deafening. That's because you could hear the fans thinking, "Cardale Jones?" But when the strong-armed Jones rose to become the MVP of Ohio State's emphatic 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game the next week, the stage was set to deliver the most impressive of the Buckeyes' six national championships.

Underdogs in their last three games, the Buckeyes beat the top three finishers in the Heisman race, including No. 2, running back Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, and No. 3, receiver Amari Cooper of Alabama. They beat Alabama, the No. 1 seed of the first College Football Playoff, and Oregon, the No. 2 seed.

They rallied to run the toughest gauntlet in college football history. I rest my case.

Tim May covers Ohio State football for The Dispatch.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports