Knock me over with a feather. Or hit me between the eyes with a buckeye (the lowercase, poisonous tree nut kind, not the kind wearing a JONES jersey or an ELLIOTT crop top, please). The primary joy of college football lies in more than a hundred wells of local anthropology, one for every team, each with its own distinct terroir; a second delight so close it might as well be 1A is that while FBS ball is the highest level of college football, the pertinent term here is “college.” It’s all executed by kids, in their late teens and early twenties, with all the success of endeavor that you might remember from back when you first realized you could be really, really good at something, and all attendant absurdity of being that young interfering at every turn.
There is no charting these erratic orbits. All anybody can do — you out there reading, us here writing, the guys on the field, and the guys pulling their strings — is watch, and wait, and predict the color of sparks that’ll fly out of the next collision. Going into the first College Football Playoff National Championship, we thought we knew what we were in for, kinda sorta, despite our total ignorance of what the final scoreboard of the year might look like: some getting-to-know-you feints, and then some footracing.
What we got was the drowning of the Ducks, in a shallow puddle, and the Voltron bloom of Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott on the sport’s biggest stage. Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback is capable of sneaking up on people, it turns out, in the sense that under so many helmets and pitchforks you can’t always tell that what’s being trotted up to your gates is a battering ram. Short of bolting one of his feet to the floor, there didn’t seem to be much to do in the way of stopping him. The title game marked his third collegiate start. Meanwhile, Elliott you could hear even when you couldn’t see him, with the acoustics of the JerryDome rounding out the vowels in the ZEEEEEEEKE bellows until every successful carry was borne up to the catwalks on an indistinct rage-hum. He is, as of this writing, 19 years old. Surprise!
Even physically removed from the headiness of it all, cast about to find a metric by which Monday night wasn’t a raging success, and watch the game grade out with flying colors at every turn. Maybe the most crucial element of a title game, to a nation of consumers staring down an eight month–ish offseason, is that the grand finale acts as a propellant for all the arguments we’ll use to navigate our way through to the end of August. This particular contest lends itself well to idle speculation over how much better the game might have been had Oregon walked in with a full quiver of starters, or how much worse had turnover-giddy Ohio State not repeatedly (graciously? So polite, those Midwesterners) attempted to make it a close game. It created sprawling, ready-made story lines for next year: the expectations on Jones in the context of what could be a bizarre champagne problem of a quarterback race; the thought of Oregon having to “rebound” from a season that included a conference championship and a Rose Bowl win.
Schematically, as my colleagues have already pointed out, the system rewarded growth, allowing for an Ohio State team that face-planted its way out of the postseason discussion in September to crash back into it in December and January and wrest the whole thing from three better-regarded teams. The postseason hollering stakes were upped by having a deserving TCU squad sidelined practically in the stadium’s side yard. To these points we’d also add that the semifinal games created a little bit of prehistory, even if it was just a quick prelude, between two title game teams that had only faced one another a handful of times.
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Dramatically? We’ve been over all the ways in which Ohio State had to defeat not just Oregon but also Ohio State, and what drama was lacking on the final scoreboard could be found in feelingsball, tearing up the insides of any who cared to watch Marcus Mariota’s Irish exit from the college game.
Narratively? Check. This was an immensely likable Ohio State team playing a perpetually entertaining Oregon team, and the manner of victory was as surprising as any team winning its sixth national title1 could be. Financially? [SLOT MACHINE NOISES HERE.]
Six consensus titles in the poll era, though Ohio State claims eight [BAMA JOKE HERE].
“It’s not always about the money,” said Urban Meyer in his postgame press conference, “it’s about the guys to my left over here that put on an incredible show.” He’s wrong and he’s right, respectively, but if ever there were a night when it felt like both sentiments could be true at the same time, it was Monday. There was the game on the field, and there was The Game as a social construct, not just an exercise in excess but one held inside a monument to excess that proudly shrieks CHECK OUT ALL OUR EXCESS Y’ALL; one with helicopter service and champagne at the concession stands and indoor fireworks, and the truest possible conclusion to a quest for postseason change that has, in fact, absolutely been all about money.
And what could be a more appropriate reaction than the retrospective video of the playoffs that started looping on the JerryTrons shortly after midnight? Hey, remember this, wasn’t it swell, you were there, did you know, did you already forget? Maybe that’s the biggest measure of success: that we want what we just saw to keep going forever, for Ohio State to play TCU on Saturday night and see where that takes us. More. Keep going. Purge if we have to, to make room for more. And even though we can’t have that,2 the youth of the Ducks and Bucks lends a regenerative quality to the 2015 preseason hype, born in the wee hours of January 13. See you all back here, same time next year? Sooner? Now.
No, for real, TCU is waiting in the parking lot with a makeshift field and the Frawgs are ready when you are, chickenheart.
The temporary tenants played right along by gilding the postgame trophy ceremonies, blasting confetti guns filled with yellow-gold glitter around the field’s perimeter and white-gold in the center, not unlike an expensive tennis bracelet (which Elliott could’ve eaten out of the air, too, no problem). Oregon trudged in defeat toward its tunnel with its cleats catching on gold Mylar streamers.
But well past midnight, there were clusters of Buckeyes players still lingering in their own end zone, dumping handfuls of confetti on each other’s heads like kids in a snowstorm back in Columbus. They don’t get the money, but they elevated the moment by acting their exact age. They were a timely reminder that it’s not enough to want more for ourselves; we have to want more for them.
The title game was no less satisfying for being 10,000 empty calories, and the emotions it stirred are absolutely real. Honor those, why don’t we? To crib from a guy who wasn’t there, isn’t that what we want football to be? Let’s make change that’s worthy of our joy. In this our own new year, let’s make that our resolution: to let those feelings propel us through the membrane from what is to what ought to be.