Ohio State 42, Oregon 20: NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

Bill Rabinowitz, The Columbus Dispatch

ARLINGTON, Texas – Say it slowly and let it sink in. It really happened. You aren't dreaming.

The Ohio State Buckeyes, counted out so many times this season, are the kings of college football.

This resilient 2014 team, a combination of 1968 youth and 2002 grit, overcame four turnovers to roll over Oregon 42-20 in the championship game of the inaugural College Football Playoff at AT&T Stadium last night.

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Counted out after losing Braxton Miller before the season and falling to Virginia Tech in their second game, the Buckeyes (14-1) won their sixth national championship in school history in front of a mostly Ohio State crowd of 85,609.

The national title is the third for Urban Meyer, who won two at Florida and now has brought one to his home state.

"We finished the year a great team," Meyer said. "To have four turnovers and still beat a team like that 42-20, incredible experience. I don't want to get overdramatic, but it's as improved a football team (as I've seen) -- and I've watched for a long time – from Game 1 to Game 15. I've never seen anything like it."

Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott continued his stunning late-season run by weaving and powering for 246 yards and four touchdowns behind an offensive line that punished Oregon to earn MVP honors.

>> PHOTOS: Buckeyes are national champions

"A monster," Meyer said.

One-time third-string quarterback Cardale Jones was mostly flawless, throwing for 242 yards and a touchdown and repeatedly using his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame to bull for key first downs.

The defense, which many expected to wilt under the pressure of stopping Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota's orchestration of Oregon's turbo-paced offense, was stout after a bad start. The 20 points were the fewest the Ducks scored all season.

"We just had to settle down and adjust to their tempo," co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "You can't simulate that in practice."

Ohio State led 21-10 at halftime, but that lead was threatened when the turnover bug that began in the first half flared up again. Oregon (13-2) intercepted a pass that glanced off Jalin Marshall. On the next play, Mariota threw deep to Byron Marshall, who was wide open for a 70-yard touchdown.

Oregon looked poised to regain the lead when Jones fumbled while starting to throw under duress and lost the ball at the Buckeyes' 23. Oregon got it to the 6 before Eli Apple prevented a touchdown catch by Evan Baylis by pushing the tight end out of the end zone before he could get his feet down. Oregon's field goal made it 21-20.

That was as close as the Ducks would get as Elliott and the offensive line took over. The Buckeyes answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive with Elliott doing most of the heavy lifting, finally scoring on a 9-yard carry.

Ohio State made it 35-20 with just under 10 minutes left on a similar drive, and Ohio State's defense prevented Mariota from providing any late magic.

"We knew that our O-line was bigger and more physical than their D-line," Elliott said, "and we just had to punch them in the mouth. They played their butts off and they paved the way for me."

Ohio State led 21-10 at halftime after 30 minutes in which both teams had reason to wonder what-if.

The Buckeyes didn't even force Oregon into facing third down on the game's opening possession, a 75-yard touchdown drive. But then the Ducks twice dropped third-down passes on their next possessions. On the second, Dwayne Stanford was alone behind the Buckeyes' defense.

After a slow start, Ohio State's offense started rolling. Elliott weaved for a 33-yard touchdown to cap a 97-yard drive to tie the score and set up Nick Vannett's 1-yard scoring catch with a 17-yard thumping carry to put the Buckeyes ahead 14-7.

But it could have been a bigger margin. Two turnovers – a botched exchange between Jones and Elliott and a fumble by Corey Smith after a 50-yard reception – kept the Buckeyes from completely seizing control. The Smith fumble came after a goal-line stand by Ohio State's defense.

The Buckeyes made it 21-7 with just under 5 minutes in the second quarter. Three plays after Devin Smith caught a 47-yard pass to the Oregon 5 on third-and-12, Jones scored on a sneak to make it 21-7.

Oregon would make it a game, but the Buckeyes did what they did all year – answer the challenge.

"We've been faced with adversity all year long, on the field and off the field," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "Those turnovers were just another example of adversity we had to overcome. It's truly special. It's the best feeling I've ever had."

It's one that Jones, in particular, couldn't have imagined when he was buried on the depth chart behind Miller and J.T. Barrett.

"Going back to camp in August, everybody counted us out when our Heisman Trophy quarterback went down," Jones said. "Then when the first College Football Playoff rankings came out, we were No. 16. Long story short, we weren't supposed to be here.

"All the odds were stacked against us through the whole season, and for us to be sitting here as national champs, it not only means a lot to me, but our community, Buckeye Nation and our hometowns."

As the confetti fell around him, center Jacoby Boren soaked it in.

"I'm speechless," he said. "We're national championships. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Given how young this team is, don't be so sure.


Ohio State's national championships


Record: 9-1 Coach: Paul Brown


Record: 10-0 Coach: Woody Hayes


Record: 9-1 Coach: Woody Hayes


Record: 10-0 Coach: Woody Hayes


Record: 14-0 Coach: Jim Tressel


Record: 14-1 Coach: Urban Meyer