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Ohio State Celebrates First Football Championship In Playoff Era


The Ohio State Buckeyes are champions of college football's top division. The Buckeyes won the inaugural football playoff last night, just outside of Dallas, blasting the Oregon Ducks 42-20. The win capped a stunning postseason run for Ohio State and provided a rousing finale for the new playoff system. From Dallas, NPR's Tom Goldman has our story.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was a day of firsts. Sure, there was that first-ever playoff championship game. But this is college, remember, and it was also the first day of spring semester at Ohio State, making last night a school night, guys - duly noted before the game by senior Seth Bullock, whose choice to be at AT&T Stadium was evident in his red face paint and the Ohio State flag draped around his shoulders.

SETH BULLOCK: I'm here for the football. We're going to win the national chairmanship tonight. School can come later. I've got, like, another 85 days of that. I've got one night for the national championship. Let's go.

GOLDMAN: It's an unexcused absence, but maybe his professors at least can mark him up for prognostication because the underdog Buckeyes did, in fact, win the national championship. And for all that went wrong for the Oregon Ducks, this is the sound that will crowd their bad dreams of last night.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ezekiel Elliott on the carry.

GOLDMAN: Ezekiel Elliott on the carry. The PA announcer uttered those words a whopping 36 times, one for each handoff to the Ohio State sophomore running back. And talk about whopping, Elliott turned those carries into a school record 246 yards and four of these.


GOLDMAN: This third of Elliot's four touchdowns with just under 10 minutes left in the game made the score 35 to 20 and drained the hope out of those in the stadium wearing Oregon yellow and green. The majority of the 85,689 in attendance wore Ohio State scarlet, gray and white. They were thrilled, and if they were being completely honest, a bit stunned. Even Urban Meyer, now only the second head coach to win titles at multiple schools, didn't see this coming.


URBAN MEYER: To say that I - we had this vision back in September or even August, no, not a chance. You know, I thought this was a team that we could battle and battle and find a way to win a bunch of games and then a year later go make a run at it.

GOLDMAN: The run came a year early, and what a run it was. An early, ugly loss to Virginia Tech took the Buckeyes out of the playoff conversation. Then Ohio State lost its second quarterback to injury, leaving third-stringer Cardale Jones in charge of the offense. In his three career starts, he has now led the Buckeyes to wins in the Big 10 championship, the playoff semifinal and the title game. Despite four turnovers by the offense last night, Jones said he never worried.


CARDALE JONES: It's hard to be flustered or nervous or down when you have them 11 guys on defense playing the way they're playing. And then definitely when you've got the guys up front blocking the way they were blocking, we felt - we really felt like we could score anytime we want.

GOLDMAN: That was Oregon's calling card all season, but too many missed opportunities, too much great Ohio State defense and not even Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota could rescue the Ducks. In the end, the fourth-seeded team in the playoff proved to be number one. That improbable story combined with sky-high ratings left two winners last night - Ohio State and the new system that allowed the Buckeyes - winners of eight titles now - to be champions again. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.