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ARLINGTON, Texas – The promise of returning the Ohio State Buckeyes to national prominence was enough for Urban Meyer to end a brief coaching sabbatical back in 2011.
Three seasons later, the job is done, although the program is just getting started.
Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship here Monday, defeating Oregon 42-20.
"This goes down as one of the great stories in college football history," Urban Meyer said in regards to Buckeyes' improbable championship run.
The Buckeyes overcame four turnovers thanks to the power running of Ezekiel Elliott (36 carries, 246 yards, four touchdowns), the brilliant play of quarterback Cardale Jones (16-of-23 passing for 242 yards, a passing TD and a rushing TD) and a defense that swallowed the vaunted Ducks attack, forcing six punts.
For Meyer, a 50-year-old native of Ashtabula, Ohio, this is his third national title, adding to his two at Florida (2006, 2008). He also posted non-championship undefeated seasons at Utah (2004) and Ohio State (2012).
"This is a surreal moment," Elliott said. "It's why we all came [to Ohio State]. After all we went through, this is crazy. It doesn't feel real."
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The most remarkable thing about this team is that it arrived seemingly a year ahead of schedule, full of talented sophomores Meyer believed would form a title contender next season. OSU will certainly open the year at No. 1 in the polls and a favorite to repeat.
The dominance of these Buckeyes (14-1) opens up the question whether Meyer is college football’s top coach, a title most often given to Alabama’s Nick Saban.
It’s a subjective title that spurs debate online and through talk radio. Saban’s four national titles (three at 'Bama, one at LSU) still trumps Meyer by one.
However, these Buckeyes showed Meyer at his best, recruiting and then meshing talent into a cohesive unit, developing players to maximize their ability and finally instilling them with confidence and motivating them to victory.
Ohio State was a betting underdog in each of its past three games against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. Jones, a redshirt sophomore, started the season as the third-stringer but was more than ready to step in immediately and, if anything, improve the offense when needed.
And a defense that was physical enough to go toe-to-toe with 'Bama, proved versatile enough to contain a tricky, fast-paced Oregon offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who played well (23-of-34 passing for 310 yards and two touchdowns) but after the game’s first drive couldn’t get the Ducks moving like they often do.
This was Meyer at his finest.
A combination of old-school, smash-mouth strength and modern spread principles made the Buckeyes offense a nightmare to prepare against. The defense was both physical and fluid. And the team just doesn’t rattle, overcoming an early season loss to Virginia Tech and running off 13 consecutive victories to give the Big Ten much-needed national credibility.
"The chase is complete," Meyer said. "These guys accepted their final mission and did it. ...This is a heck of a football team in scarlet and gray and I want to celebrate with the guys I love."
Meyer is now 142-26 overall and 37-3 at Ohio State, where he coveted the chance to revitalize a program he grew up rooting for under legendary coach Woody Hayes.
He left coaching for a year to concentrate on his health and spend more time with his family. He returned, in part, because the possibilities at Ohio State were too great. He vowed to bring an SEC mentality to the Big Ten, stepping up recruiting and competitiveness.
Now he has the title to signal the return to excellence.
And who knows how many more are coming to Columbus, where he is just getting started.