The 2015 College Football National Championship was the first in a new era for the sport, replacing the demonized and fatally flawed BCS system. Following the 2014 college football season, the 2015 College Football National Championship was the only title game not to feature a team from the SEC, but who was the winner, and how did they ascend the summit of the sport?
College Football National Championship 2015 Winner
Ohio State was the winner of the 2015 College Football National Championship after overcoming the Oregon Ducks 42-20 in front of 85,788 people in AT&T Stadium — the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It was the first time that the Buckeyes clinched a national title since defeating the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 BCS title game following the 2001 college football season.
As the No. 1 ranked team in the final AP and Coaches polls, the Buckeyes were declared consensus national champions, not an easy feat in an oft-contentious conversation. Remarkably, the 2015 CFB National Championship winner had never been ranked as the No. 1 team throughout the season, making the story of Ohio State’s success even more surprising, sensational, and seldom seen since.
Buckeyes Battle to the 2015 College Football National Championship
Looking back, the 2014 Ohio State team that became the 2015 champions was a special squad. Nine of the players that lifted the Buckeyes to a first title since 2002 went on to be first-round NFL draft picks. Those included three top 10 picks, with defensive end Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and cornerback Eli Apple dominating the front end of the 2016 NFL Draft.
However, in August 2014, becoming national champions seemed something of a pipe dream. Losing two-time first-team All-Big Ten playmaker Braxton Miller to a serious shoulder injury left the Buckeyes without their starting QB just two weeks out from the start of the season. Having contributed over 6,000 total yards of offense and 64 touchdowns in the previous two seasons, Miller’s loss was significant, substantial, and potentially season-altering.
Those fears were compounded following a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech. Backup quarterback J.T. Barrett had helped the Buckeyes to a win over Navy in Week 1 but came back down to earth with a thud against the Hokies. The redshirt freshman completed just 31% of his pass attempts while throwing three interceptions. The third, late in the fourth quarter, resulted in a game-sealing 63-yard pick-six for Donovan Riley.
The 35-21 loss curtailed a 25-game unbeaten run and saw the Buckeyes plummet to the 22nd spot in the AP Poll. The eventual 2015 College Football National Champion even dropped another spot to 23 despite a 66-0 shutout of Kent State the following week.
Although they dropped a place in the poll, the dominant nature of their win over the Golden Flashes set a precedent for the rest of the Buckeyes’ season. Behind Barrett, a receiving core led by future NFL draft second-rounders Michael Thomas and Devin Smith, and marquee running back Elliott, Ohio State steamrolled their competition.
Putting up over 30 points in every game after the Virginia Tech loss, Ohio State’s only close games came on the road at Penn State and Minnesota.
Heading into “The Game” rivalry with Michigan, the final game of the 2014 regular season, Ohio State was the sixth-ranked team in the nation and on the outside looking in at the new College Football Playoff format.
A Vonn Bell interception on the third play of the game set the tone. The Buckeyes trotted out to a comfortable 42-28 win behind three total touchdowns from Barrett, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
The win came at a cost, however. Having lost original starting QB Miller ahead of the season, Barrett suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the blowout of the Wolverines. The Buckeyes’ hopes of winning a Big Ten Championship and gaining safe passageway to the College Football Playoff and 2015 College Football National Championship Game rested on the shoulders of third-year QB Cardale Jones, a player with just 39 snaps to his name.
Ohio State obliterated Wisconsin in the Big Ten title showdown. Playing the Badgers at their own game, Elliott rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns. In his first start under center, Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, earning MVP honors. The win gave the Buckeyes their first outright Big Ten Championship since 2009. More importantly, however, the dominant nature of their win saw Ohio State secure the fourth spot in the CFP rankings.
Their reward? A trip to the Sugar Bowl to face the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. In a game that looked like it could get out of hand quickly early on, Nick Saban’s Alabama team held a 21-6 lead midway through the second quarter. However, the Buckeyes scored the game’s next four touchdowns, opening up what would prove to be an insurmountable 13-point lead.
Despite Alabama scoring in the final two minutes of both the third and fourth quarters, the Buckeyes held on for a 42-25 win. After an 85-yard touchdown run that contributed to a 230-yard performance and put a nail in the Crimson Tide’s coffin, Elliott was named the Sugar Bowl MVP, and the Buckeyes were headed to the 2015 College Football National Championship.
No running back previously had surpassed 100 yards on Alabama in the 2014 season.
A story that ended with injury and uncertainty in August 2014, came to a dominant conclusion in the enclosed AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Although Marcus Mariota opened the scoring for Oregon and helped bring the Ducks within a point until late in the third quarter, Elliott stole the show.
Three unanswered touchdown runs late in the game gave Ohio State a 42-20 margin of victory, and the Buckeyes were the winners of the 2015 College Football National Championship.