Bandwagon Bucks: A latecomer's guide to joining Ohio State's national championship quest

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

It was, as it's been said, the best of times and the worst of times for the Buckeyes this year. For those who haven't been keeping track (you mean you don't obsess over OSU's every move??), we've provided a little bandwagon-jumper's guide to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship, featuring, as you may have heard, our very own Ohio State Buckeyes.

Like any good drama series, err, football season, there were things both noteworthy and forgettable. Here's everything you missed, split between the on-the-field stuff and the more intangible, some-would-say-fun stuff during the Bucks' rollercoaster rise from the bottom to, well, here: on the verge of winning college football's first-ever playoffs.

And now, with you aboard, we can safely proclaim: "Hail, hail, the gang's all here."


Over before it began?

This season of Ohio State football began in disappointment before the first pigskin was ever kicked. Due to injury, starting quarterback (and Heisman Trophy hopeful) Braxton Miller was deemed out for the season before the first game. When the team lost by double digits to unranked Virginia Tech a few weeks later, all hope was seemingly extinguished. The season was over before it really began. Or so we thought.

The come-up

The Buckeyes, backed with Coach Urban Meyer's deft leadership, quickly turned its season around, pummeling through the rest of its schedule with second-string-quarterback-turned-season-savior J.T. Barrett at the helm. Barrett went on to break the single-season Big Ten touchdown record and established himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate before Columbusites' distress arose again (more on that in a bit) following the Michigan game. In the 12 games after the Virginia Tech loss, the Buckeyes beat opponents by 317 points, giving them an average-margin-of-victory of 26 points. So, yeah, pummeled.


As alluded to earlier, that regular-season finale against Michigan was a mixed-bag of feels. The Bucks won (duh), but Barrett broke his ankle. Then third-stringer Cardale Jones, in his first-ever two starts, walloped Wisconsin and busted through 'Bama in subsequent games (the latter arguably featured the best lineup in the country). Verdict: Hope restored.

Ever-changing quarterbacks

Barrett was a beast following the loss to the Hokies, so much so that many have since deemed Miller spare parts, crazy as that sounds. Then there's Jones, who got his signal-caller start in the postseason and, with his cannon of an arm and linebacker-sized body, won both games, one of which was a front-to-back, 59-zilch dismantling of Wisconsin. And, lest we forget, there's also wide receiver Evan Spencer, who, you know, isn't even a quarterback, but still managed to throw for a touchdown against Alabama, prompting many to wonder if the entire team wasn't made up of quarterbacks-in-waiting.

Defeating two teams with Heisman candidates … so far

The Heisman Trophy is an award given to the best athlete in college football, essentially as an MVP designation. By the end of the season, OSU will have gone up against the top three candidates for the award: Melvin Gordon, running back for Wisconsin, Amari Cooper, wide receiver for Alabama, and this year's winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The output of the first two players was far below their standard when they performed against the Buckeyes, and it's doubtful Mariota's going to have his best game coming up. Talk about impressive.


Got caught cheating?

Aside from beating Alabama in the college football semi-finals, the highlight for many watching the game was the OSU fan who may or may not have been caught with her side-man. Uh oh. Initially many presumed there might be problems at home for the lady when she pulled her hand away from her other, presumed love-interest on national TV. But, turns out, she wasn't with her side-dude, and the pair in question is indeed an item.

Personality to spare

There's running back Ezekiel Elliott's distinguished midriff, revealed by the rolled-up jersey he dons for each game. Even though it's done out of practicality - he says the jerseys are too long - it unintentionally serves as homage to former Buckeye (and Heisman Trophy winner) Eddie George. There's defensive lineman Joey Bosa's celebratory shrug, a motion-turned-meme that radiates not only suave self-assurance, but also incites considerable fear in the opposing quarterbacks that are likely to be sacked by him. And then there's Cardale Jones' fun little nickname: 12 Gauge. Dads everywhere are rejoicing over the joke potential of 12 Gauge going up against the Oregon Ducks.

Ohio goes nuts

You live in Columbus, so it's no surprise to you how crazy people get over the Buckeyes. Still, it's been fun watching the extracurricular shenanigans Ohioans are getting up to in the lead up to Monday's game. One fan started a petition aimed at getting Gov. Kasich to impose a statewide cancellation of school Tuesday. A suburb of Toledo changed its name from Oregon to "Oregon, Ohio Buckeyes on the Bay, City of Duck Hunters." The suburb's high school also changed its colors from the University of Oregon's green and gold. Hopefully, the Bucks win Monday and we won't have to see what other craziness Buckeyes fans get up to after a loss. Like, we might end up with streets blocked with burning couches and half of the city's Car2Go micro-fleet totaled.

Lastly, let us toast the Playoffs!

Finally, there would be no national championship game against Oregon Monday if it weren't for the NCAA creating a playoff system for college football. Prior to this year, only the top two teams squared off for the title. That would have been far less fun to watch as a neutral observer, but, more importantly for us, it would have left the Bucks (and Oregon) out of the picture. Thankfully, the playoff-selection committee believed in the scarlet and gray, leapfrogging the team over the, some believed, more-deserving TCU and Baylor programs. You could say OSU earned it (and they did), but the cynical part of us kinda believes the Buckeyes' prestige and drawing-power (cha-ching!) played a roll. Either way, it's been a wildly exhilarating ride. To the playoffs!

CFP Championship

Ohio State vs. Oregon

8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12

Live on ESPN