As is the case every year in the world of college football, teams across the country duke it out until finally, two final teams emerge the victorious, setting the stage for the annual National Champion Game. The storylines flood the media world, pundits analyze match up after match-up and each team’s path to the game is highlighted and used to defend any given prediction. This is the game for the best two teams in College football and to be there often means a team has been solid, nearly flawless and make it look easy each step of the way.
This year, the path to the College Football Playoff National Championship looked a little bit different.
Not only did Oregon and Ohio State find their way to Arlington via the Inaugural College Football Playoff, but each walked a path littered with adversity from the get go. It is perhaps the one comparison two very different programs currently have in common and perhaps the X-factor that could play the biggest role in tomorrow’s CFP National Champion Game.
For Oregon, the woes began before the season started when stand-out receiver, Bralon Addison, went down with a torn ACL, forcing several other receivers to step up as leaders. From there, Oregon’s injury plague attacked the offensive line, at one point, leaving just a couple of scholarship players to protect the Ducks’ most prized asset, Marcus Mariota. It was at that point that the Ducks fell for the first time this season. Despite Mariota’s best efforts to carry the team on his back, the Arizona Wildcats served the Ducks their one and only loss.
With so many expectations on the 2014-2015 Ducks Squad, a loss brought a wrath of criticism. This was supposed to be the year after all. With a Heisman hopeful quarterback in Marcus Mariota and a variety of weapons at his disposal, this was supposed to be the team to finally take Oregon and its fans to the final game. With one loss however, hopes were all but shattered all over Duck Territory. Turns out, no one told the team.
As Mariota has often said, the team rallied after that Arizona loss. They held their head up and turned a page. Then another, and another. But the adversity wasn’t over and it hasn’t stopped. That little injury plague kept moving and one by one Oregon’s elite fell victim. From All-American cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to budding star tight end, Pharoah Brown to the most recent, star receiver, Devon Allen, the Ducks’ resolve has been tested. Then just this week, another dose of adversity.
Three days before the big show, Oregon confirmed yet another stand-out receiver, Darren Carrington Jr., would miss the game following a positive NCAA-administered drug test and subsequent suspension-another hit to the already depleting list of Mariota weapons and another reason to again collectively look adversity straight in the eye and move forward with the “next man up.”
A couple thousand miles away in Columbus, the Buckeyes have been facing their own dose of adversity.
Just one week before its season opener, Ohio State’s own Heisman hopeful quarterback, Braxton Miller, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, leaving the Buckeyes and their fans bracing for a very long, tough season. Enter back-up quarterback, J.T. Barrett. A redshirt freshman with no college game experience and protected by just one seasoned lineman, Barrett settled in and showed he could play. But two games in, the Buckeyes’ pride took a big hit after an embarrassing loss to unranked Virginia Tech.
Like the Ducks, the Buckeyes had to make a choice. Crumble, or turn the page. Also adopting a “next man up” mentality, Ohio State chose to turn the page, winning one game at a time ,despite losing several key players including halfback, Dontre Wilson and then, J.T. Barrett, the redshirt freshman quarterback who had just found his stride. Now down to their 3rd string quarterback, Cardale Jones, Ohio State managed to play their way into the College Football Playoffs and defeated favored power house, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Two paths, both littered with adversity. Two teams who rose above it and became the unlikely characters on this final stage. Tomorrow, Oregon and Ohio State will face off for the first time in five years. Both teams have battled against all odds and with a game that could come down to turnover margin and a 4th quarter shoot-out, adversity and the ability to overcome it might just become the X-factor.
The victor might just be the team who has been most refined through the fire.