INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State’s No. 3 quarterback looked every bit as good as the other two.
Cardale Jones even did something his two all-conference predecessors could not. He led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title.
Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP in his first career start, leading No. 6 Ohio State to a 59-0 rout of No. 11 Wisconsin in Saturday night’s conference championship game — an emphatic statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re one of the top four teams in America,” coach Urban Meyer said after one of the most lopsided title games in Big Ten history.
Heading into championship weekend, it looked like the Buckeyes would be the first team out. They still might, but Ohio State hopes Saturday’s impressive blowout at least keeps them in the conversation as the final deliberations take place Sunday.
Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 5 CFP) has won 11 straight since losing at home to Virginia Tech and has beaten nine bowl-eligible teams all but two by double digits. Still, some wondered whether losing record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett with a broken right ankle in the regular season finale after losing Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller with a right shoulder injury in August, would be too much to overcome.
Not a chance.
Jones was efficient and effective Saturday, going 12 of 17.
Ezekiel Elliott carried 12 times for 150 yards and two scores in the first half and finished with 20 carries for a career high 220 yards.
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, his second-worst game of the season.
Ohio State handed the Badgers their first shutout since August 1997 and their worst loss since a 59-0 rout, also to the Buckeyes, in 1979.
All of it came after an emotional week for the Buckeyes, who learned of the death of defensive linemen 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, and before the national anthem, there was a moment of silence to honor Karageorge, who was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Have the Buckeyes done enough on the field to make college football’s inaugural final four?
They beat a team that had won seven straight overall, had rushed for 435.8 yards in its previous five games in the Hoosier State and was a four-point favorite coming into the game.
But against a quarterback and the motivated Buckeyes, Wisconsin never had a chance.
“We can play with anybody, and we’re going to work extremely hard whoever we play against,” Smith said.
They were outgained 364-91 in first half yards when Ohio State scored on five of its first six possessions against the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense. Ohio State had 558-258 advantage overall.
And 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 whole 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, then 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 closed it out with two Curtis Samuel touchdown runs in the fourth.