I’m done doubting the Buckeyes.

I counted them out after the loss to Virginia Tech, thinking there was no way they could recover from that to be a playoff team. Then when they became one, I doubted them again, thinking that Alabama would win handily the Sugar Bowl.

Man, was I wrong.

Ohio State QB Cardale Jones
Matthew Emmons | USA TODAY Sports Images
Ohio State QB Cardale Jones
It’s time to face the fact that this is a team every bit deserving of its place in the national championship game. Oregon gets the recognition for its offense, but Ohio State’s isn’t far behind -- fifth in the country in points (45 per game) to the Ducks’ second (47.2).

Cardale Jones has shown the maturity needed to be a starting quarterback. He may have began the season as the third string, but he’s the guy now -- and he’s playing like it. After performing the way he did in the Big Ten championship game and the Sugar Bowl, Jones won’t be fazed by the bright lights of the championship game at AT&T Stadium.

“Everybody in life has a chance to push restart,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “Not many people on a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button, and that's called selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business, on and off the field. That's one of the great stories in college football and one of the great stories I've witnessed.”

Ezekiel Elliott has made a jump from “very good” to “elite” in the past month, becoming the first Ohio State back in program history to run for 200-plus yards in consecutive games. And he did it against the Nos. 8 and 1 rushing defenses in the country in Wisconsin and Alabama. I see no reason to think Oregon will slow him down significantly.

Then there’s the defense. The defense that stopped Wisconsin in its tracks to put up a big fat goose egg in the Big Ten title game. Led by Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa on the line, both of whom wound up on various All-America lists, it hasn’t been consistent, but it has the ability to shut down an offense. Meyer and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell will have this group well prepared for whatever surprises Oregon might throw at it.

“I think we have a very fast and quick defensive line and we are well suited for Oregon's offensive line because of how fast they are,” Bennett said.

Oregon has dealt with injuries and suspensions in the past month. Ohio State has had the one major injury, but the team has mostly stayed in tact otherwise.

“They're a fantastic football team,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “They've stayed healthy. Except one position they've been very healthy, and all those guys, the other guys that people don't focus on as much as the one position going down, they're fantastic. They're fast, they're physical, they're deep.”

Ohio State has surprised plenty of people with its run to the championship. Don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes take it one step further.

-- Eric Vander Voort, NCAA.com

♦ ♦ ♦

When you have the best player on the field -- the Heisman Trophy winner -- your chances of winning any given game are high. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota fits that bill and is enough of a reason why the Ducks will claim the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship against Ohio State.

It would be easy for some to write off the Ducks given the number of offensive weapons they’ve lost. But they have Mariota, the best player in the nation. And they have a system in place where they can plug in anyone on the roster and the car never loses an ounce of horsepower.

Take the tight end position for example. Evan Baylis entered the Rose Bowl with only four receptions. So what did he do? He caught six passes for 73 yards against Florida State in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports Images
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
The whole “next man up” thing is a little easier when you have Mariota. Oregon will be missing playmakers such as tight end Pharaoh Brown and wide receiver Darren Carrington, who had a monster day in Pasadena. Receiver Devon Allen won’t play either after injuring his knee on the opening kickoff at the Rose Bowl. Did they miss a beat that afternoon? No.

They still have a healthy stable of pass catchers to help the Mariota-led offense. There’s Byron Marshall, who actually leads the team in receptions (66). Dwayne Stanford is tied for second on the team with six touchdown catches. Charles Nelson is right behind with five. For the season, the Ducks have five players who have averaged more than 40 receiving yards per game. It is, indeed, next man up.

Just when the Scott Frost-coached receiving core has your head spinning, enter the running backs. Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman combined to rush for 168 yards and four touchdowns against the Seminoles on New Year’s Day.

“We've led our conference in rushing for several years now in a row,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “We want to be able to run the football, we want to be able to throw the football, and the key is being able to dictate those things when you want to do them, and that's easier said than done, but our players have done a great job of that.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIP
Ohio State 42, Oregon 20  Box  Photo Essay
Vander Voort: Ohio State sheds underdog narratives
Kroll: Oregon offense stuck in bizarro world
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State: Why They'll Win
Vander Voort: Elliott running with one hand behind back
Kroll: Helfrich embodies Ducks' 'next man up' mentality
Everyone will talk about that Oregon offense and the speed of it. But let’s not forget about the speed the Ducks have on defense, too. It’s a unit that gives up yards, ranked just 84th in the nation in total defense (421.9), but they don’t give up many points (22.3) thanks to the second-best turnover margin in the nation at 1.43 per game.

Forcing five turnovers against Florida State changed the game and led to 34 points for Oregon in a game which saw six different Ducks force fumbles. And there’s safety Erick Dargan lurking in the secondary with his seven interceptions.

Ohio State is very likely to move the ball against the Ducks. If they can force quarterback Cardale Jones into a mistake or two and get their quick-strike offense back on the field? That’s how and why the Ducks will hoist the first CFP trophy in Arlington.

-- Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com