INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — While Ohio State fans chanted “We want ‘Bama,” coach Urban Meyer argued for an opportunity.
Moments after No. 6 Ohio State finished its 59-0 rout of No. 11 Wisconsin, Meyer hoisted the Big Ten championship trophy in the air and lobbied for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re one of the top four teams in America,” Meyer shouted to the crowd but almost defiantly to the selection committee, which must make its decision Sunday.
Some expected the Buckeyes to drop out of the conversation with the tough game against the Badgers. Instead, the Buckeyes made an emphatic statement.
Cardale Jones, who started this season as the Buckeyes’ No. 3 quarterback, looked every bit as good as Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Jones even did something his all-conference predecessors could not — leading the Buckeyes to the conference title.
The first-time starter threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns and earned MVP honors. Afterward, he slid a rose into the side of his hat, hopeful of a playoff bid.
Before the title game, it looked as if the Buckeyes would be the first team out. They still might.
But Ohio State (12-1, 8-0, No. 5 CFP) believes the rout should at least keep it in the conversation.
The Buckeyes have won 11 straight since losing at home to Virginia Tech. They have defeated nine bowl-eligible teams, all but two by double digits.
And Jones’ play may have tamped down the argument that the Buckeyes shouldn’t make it after losing Barrett to a broken right ankle in the regular-season finale.
Jones was efficient and effective, going 12 of 17. Ezekiel Elliott had 20 carries for a career-high 220 yards, and Devin Smith caught four passes for 137 yards and three scores.
The defense completely shut down Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1, No. 13 CFP) and kept Melvin Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher, under control. Gordon ran 26 times for 76 yards in his second-worst game of the season, and Ohio State handed the Badgers their first shutout since August 1997. It was also their worst loss since a 59-0 rout, also against the Buckeyes, in 1979.
All of this came after an emotional week for the Buckeyes, who learned of the death of defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge one day after Barrett’s season-ending injury.
Ohio State honored Karageorge by wearing a decal with his jersey number, 53, on the back of its helmets. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett changed his jersey number from 63 to 53.
There was a pregame moment of silence to honor Karageorge, who was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“A lot of things happened this past week and there’s a family grieving that was a part of our family,” Meyer said. “We’ll never forget our teammate.”
They still managed to beat a team that had won seven straight, had rushed for an average of 435.8 yards in its previous five games in the Hoosier State and was a four-point favorite coming into Saturday.
But against a determined quarterback and the motivated Buckeyes, Wisconsin never had a chance.
Ohio State scored on five of its first six possessions against the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense. The Buckeyes outgained the Badgers 558-258.
“I’ve got to take a long, hard look at the tape on both sides of the football,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “We did not execute in key moments. I need to do a better job of coaching them.”
The Buckeyes made it look easy.
Just six plays into the game, Jones hooked up with Smith on a pretty 39-yard floater for a 7-0 lead. Elliott then found a hole in the middle and sprinted 81 yards for a score.
After Wisconsin finally held the Buckeyes to a field goal, Jones hooked up again with Smith on a 44-yard TD pass to make it 24-0 with 11:09 left in the second quarter, and Ohio State capped the half with Elliott’s 14-yard TD run and Joey Bosa’s 4-yard fumble return for a score to make it 38-0.
Not much changed in the second half.
Smith made a nifty two-handed, off-balance catch as he was going backward into the end zone for a 42-yard score early in the third quarter, and the Buckeyes, last year’s Big Ten runner-up, closed it out with Curtis Samuel’s two touchdown runs in the fourth.
“I played with confidence because of the confidence my teammates had in me, because of the confidence my coaches had in me,” Jones said.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.