Inside the Pocket: Ohio State, Oregon head in different directions

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As gold confetti fell to the turf at AT&T Stadium on Monday night, it was hard not to step back and appreciate the journey that led to that moment and what it represented. Ohio State's emphatic victory over Oregon marked the end of another season, and the inaugural College Football Playoff couldn't be viewed as anything but a rousing success. It gave us what we wanted and sprinkled some more drama over the top.

In a year in which parity ruled and anything was possible from Seattle to Miami, we witnessed the improbable title run of a team that many had written off before Week 3. It's hard to change the public perception of a team in today's #HOTTAKE age, but that's what we got with the Buckeyes as the title game wrapped up Monday.

Remember, the Big Ten was down in the dumps, slow and less fruitful than ever when it came to the NFL draft. Yet, its trump card was played masterfully the past few weeks, first when it lured Jim Harbaugh to turn around historic power Michigan and then when Ohio State beat mighty Alabama at its own game in the Sugar Bowl. The crowning achievement came Monday night on college football's biggest stage, where the Buckeyes -- whose presence in the playoff as the No. 4 seed didn't come without controversy -- proved that they not only belonged but were championship-caliber.

"I'm glad there was a place for Ohio State, who stuck with it and played through it to get better," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "Somebody told me the other day that seven players from last year's team started in the NFL. That speaks to the kind of players at Ohio State. They have a lot of quality players and a very good coach.

"We took a lot of criticism (as a league)," he said. "The only way that ever changes is if you change on the field. We had some success on the field, not in September, but had a great conference race and did well in the postseason. It's been a good year for us."

Certainly -- and it could be again next year. The Buckeyes will be prohibitive favorites to repeat in 2015, and budding conference rival Michigan State will probably earn a spot in everybody's top 10. The trajectory is upward in the Midwest in a way it hasn't been in a long time. And Ohio State looks as though it has not yet peaked based on what we saw this year.

That makes the Buckeyes and the team they just beat, Oregon, sort of like ships passing in the night. Twice in five years the Ducks have made it to the national championship game, only to come up empty each time. They've been close -- literally a few inches away in the 2010 title game against Auburn and just one score away from Ohio State late Monday night -- but they've yet to taste that victory cigar. It makes you wonder if Oregon's window is closing with the possible departure of Marcus Mariota and a handful of special players on defense. Sure, they'll be good in years to come, but we'll always question if they can be great until they've reached the mountaintop.

"It's really hard, but Oregon, the University of Oregon, is a place that obviously that can happen and has happened," head coach Mark Helfrich said after the loss. "Everything is in place from a support standpoint and facilities standpoint and infrastructure standpoint, talent, our coaching staff is outstanding, and the leadership is outstanding. That's kind of all the ingredients."

But there's something missing, a dash of salt when pepper was needed perhaps. Until that's fixed, the Ducks will always be viewed for what they truly are: an elite program without the hardware to match. Until that changes, the Pac-12's premier team will have to sit and wonder about what could have been with Mariota turning in one of the best seasons by a quarterback in college football history.

"We were clearly the best in the bowls and had the best non-conference record overall," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "But I've felt that we need to win the national championship combined with a season like we had to have the conference be seen as the best."

It was still a great year for Oregon, which overcame plenty of adversity on the injury front. But the season ended with a loss, plenty of questions and a number of "what ifs" on the table as the Ducks possibly say goodbye to a remarkable era. Meanwhile, across the field in scarlet and gray, the future has never looked brighter.

Championship windows are fleeting, but as this year illustrated, sometimes you simply don't know what you're going to get until it's all over. That's what will make it all worth it as the chase begins again in 2015.

Stat of the Week

Ohio State's Urban Meyer is 40-3 in his career when he has more than a week to prepare for a game. He's also 14-5 against top-10 teams and 10-3 vs. top-5 teams.

Quote of the Week

"Teams or quarterbacks go in thinking they have to match Mariota, and that's just impossible. I tried to play within myself. I didn't try to do as many things as he did. He was making guys miss in the backfield, and I was trying to run over guys." -- Ohio State QB Cardale Jones

Tweet of the Week

Sounds from the Game

Here's Paul Keels of the Ohio State IMG Radio Network with the highlights from the Buckeyes national championship win over Oregon.

Sideline standouts

Gold medal:*Chris Ash, Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator, had a terrific game plan against the Ducks and Heisman winner *Marcus Mariota.
Silver medal:*Ed Warinner, the Buckeyes co-offensive coordinator, was a big reason why the team dominated in the trenches and ran over a good defense.
*Bronze medal:*
Tom Herman, the Ohio State offensive coordinator and future Houston head coach, called a great game and knew just when to dial up big plays and get quarterback *Cardale Jones back into the game after a turnover.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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