DALLAS — As the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship draws closer, the Ohio State Buckeyes are preparing for not only the Oregon Ducks, but also the biggest stage in the sport.
After pulling an upset in the Sugar Bowl against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes will need to pull yet another upset to take home their first title since the 2002 season.
In order to do that, there are a number of players that the Buckeyes will need to play well.
Cardale Jones, redshirt-sophomore quarterback
While the Oregon signal caller has stolen the awards, spotlight and headlines, there is no denying that Cardale Jones could be the second-most important player in the national title game.
Making just his third career start, the Glenville High School product is now tasked with leading the OSU offense on the biggest stage in college football.
Despite being one of just two healthy scholarship quarterbacks, Jones said he does not plan on holding anything back in the title game.
“You know, playing cautious like that, that’s what gets you hurt,” Jones said. “(The coaches) haven’t told me, ‘Make sure you slide or get out of bounds.’ Just play smart and play within yourself.”
Jones is averaging 250 yards per game through the air in his two starts this season, both coming against top-10 defenses.
Luckily for Jones, the Oregon defense ranks 111th in the country in pass defense and he has the next player on this list to throw it to.
Devin Smith, senior wide receiver
If history is any indication of what will happen in the title game, the Buckeyes should have one thing on their minds: Get the ball to Devin Smith in the end zone.
The Buckeyes are 22-0 in Smith’s career when he catches a touchdown pass and he has caught four of the last five OSU touchdown receptions, all of which have come from Jones.
With his recent production, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Saturday that his defense needs to be aware of Smith and what he can do on the football field.
“Smith is a good player, whether it’s blocking, running routes … he’s a playmaker,” Helfrich said. “Not just him, they’ve got a couple playmakers on their offense. We’ve just got to come to play and be on our ‘A’ game.”
Smith has scored many big touchdowns in his career, and if he can score one for OSU in Arlington, Texas, it might just mean a Buckeye victory.
Joey Bosa, sophomore defensive end
The first unanimous All-American for OSU since 2007, Joey Bosa did not have the type of game Buckeye fans are used to seeing out of the Florida native against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Bosa totaled just three tackles against the Crimson Tide and to the untrained eye, seemed rather ineffective.
Bosa said he doesn’t mind taking on multiple blockers if it means the team as a whole has success.
“Teams have definitely been trying to limit what I do and keying on me,” Bosa said Saturday. “I don’t mind it as long as it’s freeing up my other teammates and they’re all making plays and we’re playing well as a unit. That’s all I can ask for.”
The sophomore is just a half sack away from tying the school record for sacks in a season (14.0), which was set by Vernon Gholston in 2007, the last time the Buckeyes played for a national title.
Bosa said the record would be nice, but his eyes are ultimately fixed on bringing the College Football Playoff trophy to Columbus.
“I could make no tackles, and as long as we win, I’ll be happy,” Bosa said.
Darron Lee, redshirt-freshman linebacker
The defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl, Darron Lee was almost not a Buckeye.
“He came to camp, like five or six times. I rejected him, probably four times,” Meyer said. “Shows you how good an evaluator I am.”
Meyer credited OSU co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell for remaining confident in Lee, and ultimately bringing him to Columbus.
“Coach Fickell made the right decision. He worked with him,” Meyer said Tuesday. “They have a great relationship and that’s the best way to go about this business — to go compete and work with a guy that might be your coach some day. That’s a great story.”
Lee ranks third on the OSU defense in tackles with 73 and will likely play a key part in helping to slow down Heisman Trophy winner and Oregon redshirt-junior quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Buckeyes and Ducks are set to play for the first-ever College Football National Championship Monday in Arlington. Kick is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EST.