From 2014 to now: 4 reasons history is repeating — and Ohio State will again win national championship
Alabama and Ohio State. Fitting, right? And familiar.
Not only are these programs college football royalty, they have previously played each other in the College Football Playoff. It makes sense that the final game of this crazy season would, predictably, involve these two teams.
The last time they faced off was the 2014 season — Jan. 1, 2015 to be exact — in the semifinal of the very first Playoff. There are familiar faces, themes and circumstances in both of the matchups.
So … are we ready to predict who will win college football’s National Championship? I am.
All we have to do is look to the past, because it provides a very accurate road map. Here are four reasons why I think history is repeating itself — and Ohio State will again be crowned national champs.
1. Familiar faces from Ohio State have beaten Alabama before. They’re ready to do it again.
Kerry Coombs was there in 2014, serving as the defensive backs coach. So was Larry Johnson, who was the defensive line coach. Then there was Mickey Marotti, who was the strength coach.
They all had a part in the Buckeyes’ 42-35 victory over No. 1 Alabama in the semifinal in 2014. And Coombs especially remembers what it was like to win — and what that victory did for the Buckeyes program.
“Yeah, I think that stretch of those three games, (we were) an underdog in all three of them,” Coombs, now the Ohio State defensive coordinator, told the media this week. “I think that Urban (Meyer), who’s obviously one of the great recruiters of all time, had been establishing Ohio State as a national recruiting program and bringing in some really, really good talent. I think that (those games) really helped solidify that and helped us take off to be able to recruit with the best in the country year in and year out and bring in some really, really quality — top-quality players. So I think it was that three-week stretch, at least for me, that was a true game-changer for our future here.”
It’s hard to argue with Coombs’ assessment. Last year, the Buckeyes brought in the No. 5 recruiting class. This year, they have the second-ranked class and could easily challenge for No. 1, which would mean they would overtake — you guessed it — Alabama.
So Coombs and Johnson both know what it was like to defeat the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. And, after their defense had been questioned at various times throughout the season, the unit seems to be rounding into championship form when it matters most.
That defense will have to play its best game of the season to be able to defeat Alabama again.
2. Both the 2014 and 2020 teams had controversy getting into the Playoff. The teams used that as motivation to show they belonged.
In 2014, the Buckeyes started off ranked in the top 10, but quickly, voters lost confidence when the team dropped its second game of the season (and home opener) to unranked Virginia Tech, 35-21.
Upset complete! Virginia Tech beats Ohio State in Columbus, 35-21. Buckeyes lose home opener for 1st time since 1978. pic.twitter.com/u2EPL4QHsw
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— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 7, 2014
Ohio State nearly dropped out of the AP poll, falling all the way to No. 22, before making a steady climb back up to the top, going undefeated in the B1G and knocking off Penn State at Beaver Stadium and No. 7 Michigan State in East Lansing along the way.
By the time the Buckeyes played No. 11 Wisconsin in the B1G championship, Ohio State was the No. 5 team in the country. Many wondered if they were good enough to make the inaugural College Football Playoff, thinking that a big win over the Badgers could prove their case. Ohio State won 59-0, earned an invitation and went on to upset Alabama.
In 2020, many wondered the same things about Ohio State, but for different reasons. COVID-19 precautions and restrictions resulted in an abbreviated season with canceled games, and to tell the truth, Ohio State did not look wonderful in the games it did play, which included a win over Penn State in Beaver Stadium, a 42-35 victory over No. 11 Indiana and a 22-10 win in the B1G championship over No. 14 Northwestern.
Similar to 2014, the 2020 Ohio State team kicked it into another gear when they made the Playoff, using that motivation — as well as the fuel of wanting to make up for a heartbreaking loss to Clemson the previous year — to run away with a win over the Tigers.
Which of course, sets up the rematch with the Crimson Tide.
3. Trey Sermon is running all over people. Just like Zeke Elliott did during the last title run.
We all said it, didn’t we?
Trey could run on Northwestern, but he wouldn’t do it against Clemson. Of course, he might be able to establish a run game, but how much damage could he really do? Turns out, a lot.
In 2014, Ezekiel Elliott had the best three-game run in Ohio State history, rushing for 696 yards and 8 touchdowns in the wins against Wisconsin, Alabama and then Oregon for the national championship.
Ezekiel Elliot game clinching 85 yard touchdown run against Alabama to send Ohio State to the National Championship (2015) pic.twitter.com/CNCEjfdPM2
— Ohio State Clips (@OhioStateClips) October 31, 2018
Sermon is doing his best Zeke impression, as he has 524 yards and 3 touchdowns against Northwestern and Clemson (Sermon finished with 31 carries for 193 yards, adding 4 catches for 61 yards against the Tigers alone). That’s about 30 rushing yards per game more than Elliott’s pace, and Sermon said he remembered watching Elliott run on the Crimson Tide back in 2014.
“I definitely remember watching it,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling. There’s been a lot of great running backs that have come through here, and Zeke is one of the best running backs. Just to be in that conversation, it’s an honor. Those guys are great, and I just feel pretty good about what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.”
He needs one more game to reach the kind of legendary heights that Zeke did. History says he’ll play a major role in the game.
4. Great quarterback play led to big victories.
In 2014, the Buckeyes needed three great quarterbacks to win a national championship. Each brought extraordinary talents to the table, and each brought different aspects to the title run.
In 2020, the Buckeyes have another great quarterback, one who found himself and played his greatest game in the upset over Clemson. You just get the feeling that Justin Fields isn’t done writing his story just yet. After a season where he felt added pressure — not only to live up to his performance from last season, but to win a Heisman trophy — now he can just go out and play to win.
That’s what we saw against Clemson. That’s probably what we’ll see against Alabama.
As Ohio State coach Ryan Day said this week, the goal was not just to beat Clemson.
“The goal was to win the national championship,” Day said. “All these guys [when] we didn’t have a season, they were fighting to get back to play for a national championship. While it was an emotional win, that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to win this one. And so I’d be disappointed if we didn’t play well in this game.
“This is everything on the line, everything we wanted,” he continued. “So now all the focus goes on to Alabama. We’ve just got to prepare.”
Let’s face it: The Buckeyes are riding high, seemingly peaking at the right time. When was the last time Ohio State felt this good?
Probably when they beat the Crimson Tide in 2014. During that run, they beat a Heisman hopeful (Amari Cooper of Alabama), then took out the Heisman winner (Marcus Mariota) in the championship game.
In 2020, the script is eerily similar.
So what will the ending look like?
Once again, I think history repeats itself.