Two years ago this week — Dec. 27, 2014, to be exact — the Ohio State Buckeyes flew to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, starting their journey in the first College Football Playoffs. On Monday afternoon, five days before a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Clemson, they will fly to Phoenix, touching down around 7:30 p.m. (ET).
There are many parallels to the 2014 season, and the Buckeyes will talk about them all week in a series of press conferences starting as soon as they land at Sky Harbor International Airport.
The 2014 team featured numerous young players — Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones and Joey Bosa, to name a few — who became stars during the run to the national championship. The 2016 Buckeyes, who returned only six starters, may be even more inexperienced than that team, and yet they will play in the national semifinals.
While the playoffs will be a new experience for many Ohio State players, they also have a core group that can lean on what it learned in victories over Alabama and Oregon. Here’s everything the players and coaches said about 2014 when they spoke to the media on Dec. 15 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center:
Defensive tackle Robert Landers, who was a senior at Wayne High School during the 2014 playoff run: “(Watching those games) the first thought that went through my head was, ‘I can’t wait to get to Ohio State,’ because that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what not only every college player wants, but every high school player wants. You want to go play for a major collegiate football program and say you won a national championship and you can wear your ring to commemorate what you’ve done. It made my expectations a lot higher getting here.”
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was injured during the 2014 playoffs: “It’s just a different approach, really. Now I’m at the point where I’m getting myself together as far as preparing for the game mentally, physically, making sure I’m on top of my game to play my best. At that time it was more what can I do to help Cardale get ready for the games we have ahead and also just help the offensive team in general. So I guess I was trying to be a service to my teammates in 2014 whereas this year I’m still doing that, but I have to get myself together and make sure I’m ready to go play and be at my best when it comes game time.”
Center Pat Elflein, a starter at guard in 2014: “It’s all about preparation, and it always is. We stress that all year so they know what it takes to win a big-time game. This last one (against Michigan) was a big-time game and a big-time win and we prepared well that week and we practiced as hard as we could. So my approach to practice is play like you’re playing the game. Our coaches will put us in a good situation to win, and when it’s time to make a play, you’ve made it so many times in practice that it’s going to show up on game day. So it’s all about preparation and trusting your coaches.”
Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner: “The 2014 season is in the past. Our focus is on how to beat Clemson this year. All the scenarios fell together that season. Nobody thought that Braxton Miller would get hurt in the preseason. J.T. (Barrett) got hurt and Cardale came in and we continued to evolve. It was a great job by a lot of people to evolve and play at a high level. Our defense played at an exceptional level in the playoff. It was a complete team effort.”
Linebacker Raekwon McMillan: “We’ve got a lot of history here. I can’t even tell you all the history. We’re on an incredible run. I wish I had a couple more Big Ten championships for my fingers. That’s why I wouldn’t call it the golden age. We’ve done a great job so far of staying the course even though we take a loss to Virginia Tech (in 2014), last year to Michigan State and this year to Penn State. We take the loss and get back here in the confinements of the facility and work.”
Running back Mike Weber: “(Elliott’s performance in 2014) kind of influenced me to come here, how well he was running the ball and how good that line was blocking. It kind of felt unreal just watching it and how the hole would open up for him and how he was just breaking so many tackles and scoring touchdowns. I kind of pictured myself doing that. That really influenced me to come here, watching that.”
Wide receiver Noah Brown: “It definitely feels a little different (being a starter this time) because I understand that I have more of a chance to make an impact and I appreciate that and I go out every day on the field trying to take advantage of that, trying to do whatever I can to help win the game. I realize that this year I have more of a chance to do that than I did my freshman year. That’s a lot of responsibility and I’m looking forward to it.”
Linebacker Chris Worley: “We can’t live off 2014’s legacy. At the end of the day, there are guys on this team that contributed in some ways and guys that didn’t, and we can’t live off that. It’s a whole new year, and what we did in 2014 is not going to help us win any games this year. When you play at a university like this, you’ll have great players who played before you and great teams. Your objective is not to live through them, but to let them motivate you to be the next great team. This university deserves a great team to go out there and play on Dec. 31, and that’s what we have to do.”
Defensive end Sam Hubbard on young teams exceeding expectations in 2014 and 2016: “I think it’s because no one sees the guys that are behind all the people leaving. Guys will leave this year, and we’ll have more guys and reload. That’s just good recruiting and good competitive excellence for older guys that have been making plays, showing the young guys how to do it. When they get a chance, they’re hungry to get out there.”