The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes did the improbable, winning the national championship behind a third-string quarterback.
Urban Meyer, who had gone 22-2 at Utah before winning two national championships in six seasons at Florida, was entering his third year at Ohio State. Meyer had taken over a program that went 3-5 the season before his arrival. In his first two campaigns in Columbus, the 50-year-old Meyer led the Buckeyes to back-to-back undefeated Big Ten seasons, both of which concluded with wins over archrival Michigan. The Bucks reeled off 24 straight in 2013 [a school record] before falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
The 2014 campaign marked Ohio State’s 125th season and 102nd as a member of the Big Ten Conference. It was also their first as a member of the league’s newly organized Eastern Division. The Buckeyes returned 12 starters from the 2013 team, which had gone 12-2 and finished the season ranked #12. The returnees included quarterback Braxton Miller, the two-time and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. A Heisman Trophy front-runner, Miller had rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. He added 2,094 with 24 touchdowns through the air. Less than two weeks before the season opener, Miller sustained a shoulder injury in practice and was lost for the year.
The 2014 Buckeyes scored 672 points while allowing only 330. OSU’s 44.8 points-per-game average ranked fifth amongst 128 Division I programs.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett replaced Miller. Despite getting little practice time with the first-team offense during camp, Barrett led Ohio State to a 34-14 win over Navy in the opener. The Bucks stumbled in Week 2, losing 35-21 to Virginia Tech. Barrett continued to master Tom Herman’s offense and Ohio State scored 42 or more points in eight of their next ten regular season games. A 6’2”, 220-pound dual threat, Barrett set a Big Ten record with 45 touchdowns [rushing and receiving] and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2014. But much to the dismay of the OSU faithful, Barrett suffered a broken ankle in a season finale win over Michigan, ending his year.
Although 2014 marked Ohio State’s third consecutive undefeated Big Ten regular season and second straight berth in the conference title game, the loss of Barrett appeared to doom the teams chances for postseason success. Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, who began the season third on the depth chart, got his first start in the Big Ten championship game. Jones and the Bucks had their hands full. Ohio State entered the conference title game as a four-point underdog to Wisconsin, led by all-everything running back Melvin Gordon. The 11th-ranked Badgers earned their trip to Indianapolis after going 7-1 to win the Western Division.
In the conference title game, Jones wasted little time silencing his doubters. He hit Devin Smith with a 39-yard scoring strike just two minutes into the contest and the Buckeyes never took their foot off the gas. OSU rushed for over 300 yards and amassed 558 yards in total offense. Displaying a rifle arm, Jones went 12-for-17 for 253 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 rout. It remains the only shutout in college football conference championship game history.
Five Buckeyes went in the NFL draft following the 2014 season.
With Jones under center, OSU did the unthinkable: they destroyed Wisconsin to win their third straight Big Ten title and securing one of the four spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Jones, the Buckeyes third and only surviving quarterback, had become Ohio State’s most unlikely hero.
OSU was seeded fourth in the playoff, where they squared off against top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Led by Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide had won three of the past five national championships. Things didn’t look promising for the Buckeyes, who were starting a rookie quarterback against a Saban-coached team with a month to prepare.
But Urban Meyer is a pretty good coach himself. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, while Jones was 18-for-35 with 243 passing yards. The Buckeyes dominated time of possession, collected more first downs and total yards, and committed fewer turnovers to turn back the Tide, 42-35, and advance to the national title game.
Led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Oregon upset previously unbeaten Florida State in the Rose Bowl to win a date with OSU. The Ducks arrived 13-1, with their only blemish coming in Week 5 loss to Arizona. The Buckeyes imposed their will on Oregon in the final. Elliott gashed the Ducks for 246 yards on 36 carries and scored four touchdowns, the highest rushing total in a championship game. Jones quietly went 16-of-23 for 242 yards and a touchdown, leading Ohio State to a resounding 42-20 victory. It was the Buckeyes’ first national championship in 12 years [and eighth overall] and secured Meyer his third.
Defensive end Joey Bosa led the Big Ten in sacks, tackles-for-loss and forced fumbles, leading to being named 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and unanimous First Team All-America.
Cardale Jones, who threw for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and no picks in the 2014 postseason, returned to Ohio State for his junior season. He shared quarterback duties with J.T. Barrett in 2015. Senior Braxton Miller also returned, moving to wide receiver. Jones threw for 1,459 yards and eight TDs, while Barrett threw for 992 yards and 11 scores. Miller caught 25 passes for 340 yards and rushed 43 times for 261 more. OSU finished the season ranked fourth in the nation after crushing Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 44-28.
In the half-decade since Ohio State won the 2014 national title, Saban has led ‘Bama to four straight national championship games, winning two. Urban Meyer went 83-9 in seven seasons before stepping down as Ohio State’s head coach in 2018. OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman is now head coach at Texas, where he has resurrected the Longhorns’ long-dormant program. The third overall pick of the 2016 draft, Bosa was named 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Elliott was named 2015 Big Ten MVP and has twice led the NFL in rushing as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, and Cardale Jones all failed to make an NFL roster.
Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of Ohio State closing its historic 2014 season with a 42-28 win over Michigan. It capped the third straight perfect Big Ten regular season for Urban Meyer, who ran his league record to 24-0. It was Buckeyes’ third consecutive win over Michigan and tenth victory in the last 11 meetings between the two schools [OSU has won 16 of the last 18, the most lopsided streak in the history of college football’s most storied rivalry]. This Saturday, Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor for its 117th meeting with Michigan.