ARLINGTON, Texas - In any other year, Ohio State's national championship hopes effectively would have been over two games into the season after a devastating home loss to Virginia Tech. But coach Urban Meyer, running back Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the Buckeyes found another avenue to the top of the mountain thanks to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship Monday night before an AT&T Stadium crowd of 85,869.
Elliott rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries and Ohio State's superb defense contained Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Oregon's warp-speed offense in a 42-20 win. Elliott's final three TD runs broke open a 21-20 game.
Fourth-seeded Ohio State was the last team admitted to the field and the last team standing, making Meyer the second coach, along with Alabama's Nick Saban, to win national titles at two schools.
This was Meyer's third overall after winning two at Florida, and it had a special significance for the native Ohioan. He took over the Buckeyes three seasons ago when they were on probation and turned a team regarded as a Big Ten plodder into an SEC-style powerhouse, earning Ohio State's first national title since 2002.
It was all the more brilliant because Meyer won with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones making all three postseason starts and knocking off Wisconsin (in the Big Ten title game), Alabama and Oregon by a combined 136-48.
Meyer preached about the chance to make history, and he said former Giants and Jets coach Bill Parcells spoke to his team about that subject before this season. "These guys will know that, for the rest of their lives, they are part of history winning the first College Football Playoff national title," Meyer said. "The great Bill Parcells made a quote to us: 'Once you win a championship, it's like a blood transfusion -- you're forever family.' "
Just as in the Sugar Bowl, Elliott was named most outstanding offensive player. He totaled 696 rushing yards in the postseason and deferred all the credit for his remarkable finish to his blockers. "The offensive line showed up," he said. "Toward the end of the season, it's been incredible. They're unstoppable. They're the heartbeat of our team. A big shout-out to 'The Slobs.' "
Jones made his share of big plays, completing 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards and one TD. The Buckeyes (14-1) committed four turnovers but held Oregon (13-2) to its fewest points all season.
Mariota completed 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards, two TDs and one interception and rushed for another 39 yards, but it wasn't enough.
The Ducks' offensive tempo was breathtaking on the opening drive as they drove 75 yards to score on Mariota's 7-yard pass to wide receiver Keanon Lowe, the replacement for Darren Carrington, who was suspended for failing an NCAA drug test.
Jones showed his NFL potential on the next drive, hitting a third-down pass of 26 yards to Corey Smith and another 26-yarder to Jalin Marshall to launch a 97-yard scoring drive that ended with a 33-yard TD run by Elliott to tie the score.
A 17-yard punt return by Marshall set up a 46-yard drive capped by Jones' 1-yard TD pass to tight end Nick Vannett for a 14-7 Ohio State lead.
The Buckeyes' next two drives ended with fumbles, but the Ducks failed to take advantage, failing first on a fourth-and-goal at the 3 when running back Thomas Tyner was stopped a yard short. A 45-yard pass from Jones to Devin Smith set up a 1-yard TD run by Jones for a 21-7 lead.
"We had a lot of mistakes," Jones said. "That would have been a blowout win for us, but there's nothing else I could ask for."
Mariota responded by piecing together a 66-yard drive, but he overthrew open tight end Evan Baylis, forcing the Ducks to settle for Aidan Schneider's 26-yard field goal and a 21-10 halftime deficit.
A stunning third-quarter turnaround got the Ducks back in the game. Oregon linebacker Danny Mattingly intercepted a bobbled pass at his team's 30. On the next play, Mariota lofted a 70-yard TD pass down the middle to wide-open Byron Marshall, who nearly dropped it before crossing the goal line but was bailed out by replay.
Moments later, the Buckeyes suffered their fourth turnover when Jones fumbled at the OSU 23, but the Ducks managed only a 23-yard field goal by Schneider to trim Ohio State's lead to 21-20.
When the Buckeyes responded with a 75-yard scoring drive capped by Elliott's 9-yard run and took a 28-20 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Ducks were doomed. Elliott added 2- and 1-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.