Tonight is the first-ever championship game of the new playoff system, and it pits the Oregon Ducks against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Oregon suffered a setback in the last few days with two receivers out with an injury and a suspension, but the Ducks are still favored to win. However, there are no doubts among Buckeyes fans on who will win this game.
Jim Bakle was among the three dozen fans who stood outside the athletic facility named for Ohio State’s legendary coach Woody Hayes, braving snow flurries and temperatures in the teens to cheer on the team as they left for the game on Thursday. “It’s gotta be a Buckeye win – you want points? I’d say 35-27.”
Eight-year-old Bryson Stampert and nine-year-old Braylon Sturgell came almost as far – they’re from Portsmouth. “They’re going to beat ‘em, really bad," they told me. "Really bad?” I asked. "Oh yeah!” When reminded that Oregon is a good team, the boys are still enthusiastic: "We’re positive! We’re sure.”
Bridget Mahoney drove two hours from Cincinnati to see the team off. “This is a compelling story, a compelling team. They’ve risen from adversity two, three, four times," Mahoney said. "They are just the pride and joy of Ohio.”
That pride comes from being the underdog in the last two big wins – the shutout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and then the toppling of #1 behind third string quarterback Cardale Jones, who came in after second-string QB JT Barrett broke his ankle in the big rivalry game against Michigan. And Barrett got his chance because last year’s star quarterback Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury knocked him out before the season started. Buckeyes have so much pride they’re willing to show it by traveling around the world. Ohio State alum Mark Heitz flew to Dallas yesterday from Dubai - "because it’s the Buckeyes. You know, why not?" he said. "Probably a once in a lifetime opportunity so jump on the plane and 16 and half hours later we’ll land in Dallas and get ready for the game.”
The game is such a big deal that even kids will be staying up to watch – including 15-year-old high school sophomore Jack Hendrix of Upper Arlington in suburban Columbus. He started an online petition asking the state to close all schools tomorrow. It got nearly 49-thousand signatures, and while Gov. John Kasich shot down Jack’s request, it got him a call from Kasich. “He invited me to go to the gala on Monday to watch the game, which I thought was a little ironic."
That gala is Kasich’s inauguration party – he was sworn in at midnight and tonight’s inaugural gala has essentially become a black-tie tailgate, with big screen TVs for guests who don’t want to miss the game. “It’s a two-fer, really," Kasich said. "I’ll tell you this – it’ll be one that will be remembered. Inaugurations come and go, but when you have an inauguration of a governor and a team playing for the national championship and you can have people dancing to the music and watching the screen and seeing how we’re doing, it’s going to be cool."
Back at the team send-off, OSU fan Don Cary offered this forecast for Dallas: “There’s a weather alert that I want your listeners to know – watch for falling duck.” And this shows how Buckeye Nation rolls – Cary wrote a song just for this game.
And most of Ohio is all in – the community of Oregon near Toledo and the Oregon district in Dayton have temporarily changed their names, and the city of Urbana has dropped the "A" – to honor coach Urban Meyer.