Ground to a Fine Powder
For an 11-time underdog - yes, that's right, the Big Ten was the underdog in every out-of-conference post-season game it played in - 6-5 with a national championship isn't a bad way to show out. But the Big Ten did just that, and along the way they vindicated the hard-nosed style of play that's written in big letters on the conference's calling card.
In a historic year for Big Ten running backs, with 42% of the conference owning a 1500-yard rusher, and a Heisman finalist who came a long touchdown run away from the pinnacle of running back greatness, it was the ability to stop the run that actually proved crucial in bowl season. The four best run defenses went 5-0; the six worst, 1-5. At the center of it all was Ohio State, which not only had the defense and the running ability but athleticism all over the field and a quarterback who made more smart plays than bad ones.
While Oregon tried to maintain its steady cerebral composure, OSU gathered strength from a focused intensity that was evident in the players' body language. For all the similarities between the high-strung offenses of the Ducks and the Bucks, the two really play a different game. Oregon once again blinked in the face of an intense, physical, wear-you-down football team. Ohio State was that team, a throwback, modern Big Ten unit, with tough tight ends (a touchdown for Nick Vannett), a quarterback who could get the ball downfield (one touchdown running, one throwing) and a running back who simply made the other team give up. Zeke Elliott's four touchdowns and ball control were a nightmare Oregon couldn't stop.
Elliott now has 696 rushing yards in the postseason to the tune of 9.1 yards per carry, and he's averaging 167 yards a game since Michigan State. Even more than that, he was safe with the football and provided leadership and focus. "We knew that our O-line was bigger and more physical than their D-line and we just had to punch them in the mouth," said Elliott after the game, showcasing the approach that handles a 60-minute game and all its momentum changes so well, and that original way to stress a defense. Zeke was humble at the end about the team effort it took to get the win, crediting both his line and his defensive teammates.
Against some of the more recognizable spread teams in the nation - Alabama, with Lane Kiffin, Auburn, Baylor and Oregon - the Big Ten's elite hawked the ball and gutted out four different, high-scoring but run-oriented wins. Those teams were #2, #3, #9, and #17 in the country in total offense, but they met their match with the Big Ten. Elliott ran for over 200 yards on Alabama, which hasn't happened since Nick Saban took over the program. Michigan State kept Baylor off the field for 36:09 of game time while running Jeremy Langford 27 times for 162 yards. Wisconsin bulldozed Auburn with 400 ground yards. Oregon was on the field for only 22 minutes against Ohio State. The Big Ten showed it could hang tough with sexier, more spread-out offenses.
It even made a believer out of Nick Saban, who got ousted by a conference he was once a part of. "I think Ohio State really has a good football team. I thought they were a very underrated team by everybody in terms of how people thought about them.... Now, they were a little different and the quarterback was a great runner when 16 (J.T. Barrett) was playing, and he was a good passer. But it wasn't so obvious when you watched the film all season long that they had these great skill players that could really make plays down the field."
The depth isn't quite there, looking ahead to next season. Penn State, Maryland, and Minnesota played very poorly to Boston College, Stanford and Missouri. But the wins that the Big Ten got thanks to Meyer, Dantonio, and Alvarez were a building block that can attract top runners and blockers in future classes. This was a model for what each athlete and coach has to face next year, and try to live up to. The image of Melvin Gordon chasing history, of Ezekiel Elliott shattering a mystique of Southern football, or the image of Mark Dantonio getting showered in Gatorade for pulling magic out of his scowl and Maxx Williams hurtling two defenders one right after the other - all this brought life back to a conference many left for dead.
The Big Ten tallied the most wins against ranked competition (four). The Big Ten is back.
Hitting the Links Is B1G
The star of the show - without him, the quarterback and the front seven wouldn't have been enough to pull away from Oregon like they did.
A very good, comprehensive analysis of how the game was covered.
There's an outside chance that Ohio State ends up with three of the top four running backs in the 2016 class.
The news about Jordan Phillips is not new - it flew under the radar - but it's worth highlighting as that puts a gaping hole in the middle of Oklahoma's defense for next year.
Alabama has the resume, obviously, but they've also done a good job impressing recruits with their lip service to academics and life skills.
On a slightly unrelated note, here is Rivals' top ten teams in 2015 recruiting: #1 Alabama, #2 Florida State, #3 USC, #4 Clemson, #5 Georgia, #6 Tennessee, #7 Ohio State, #8 Texas A&M, #9 Notre Dame, and #10 Penn State. Four teams are from the SEC, as opposed to seven in 2014.
With better coaches comes better recruiting and better results, and more three-dimensional football teams. Iowa's offensive line was a microcosm of the Big Ten the last few years, with some star talent, potential, and skill, but ultimately poor results.
Brady Hoke coined the phrase, but this time it's up to Tim Drevno to really establish that for Michigan's offense.
Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington said his decision to return to school is "100 percent final. I will be back."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 10, 2015
Taylor Decker will also be returning.