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How Ohio State and Oregon Built Their Rosters for a National Championship

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On Monday night in Arlington, one team’s national championship window might be opening while the other one might be closing.

First, don’t overreact. Both Oregon and Ohio State have proven their staying power on the big stage. The Ducks and Buckeyes will make College Football Playoff appearances in the years to come.

For Ohio State, the return trip might be a little sooner.

Of the 33 players who started at least one game for Ohio State this season, 13 of them came from the signing class of 2013. Six of those sophomores or redshirt freshmen started in the Sugar Bowl.

Contrast that with Oregon. True, the Ducks have a total of 14 freshmen, sophomores and redshirt freshmen who played regular snaps this season. But the Ducks are also relying heavily on the most veteran of veteran players.

Oregon started eight fifth-year seniors during the course of the season, including one who signed in the final class under Mike Bellotti two coaches ago. Six starters for Oregon in the Rose Bowl were fifth-year seniors.

There are many ways to build a national championship team, and few illustrate that better than Oregon and Ohio State in the title game this season. One is relying on young talent, the other on veterans. One is more likely to nab top-100 recruits, one has done a better job of developing three-star talent. And both tend to stay on their own sides of the Mississippi River to recruit.

Athlon Sports looked at every player who started a game for Oregon and Ohio State this season, giving us the 36 Ducks and 33 Buckeyes who have led the way for both teams to reach the final game of the 2014 college football season.

Here’s a look at how Oregon and Ohio State built contenders.

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Youth vs. Experience

Signing Class

Ohio State (33 starters)

Oregon (36 starters)

2014

1

4

2013

13

9

2012

8

8

2011

9

8

2010

2

7

2009

0

0

2008

0

1

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• On its face, Oregon’s 13 first- and second-year players would seem to put the Ducks on even footing with Ohio State’s 14 first- and second-year players. A deeper look proves otherwise. The Buckeyes’ last two signing classes produced standout defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and running back Ezekiel Elliott — not to mention injured quarterback J.T. Barrett. Oregon’s last two signing classes produced running back Royce Freeman, wide receiver Devon Allen and starting guard Cameron Hunt among others.

• There’s no doubt Ohio State is Urban Meyer’s team. Take a look at the last three signing classes for Ohio State. Two-thirds (22 of 33) of all the players to start a game this season signed under Urban Meyer.

• Oregon’s team is a little more evenly distributed by signing class, not a surprise since the program has seen little upheaval on the coaching staff despite Mark Helfrich taking over for Chip Kelly in 2013.

• The Ducks, though, have an abundance of fifth-year seniors. Oregon started six fifth-year seniors in the Rose Bowl: safety Erick Dargan, center Hroniss Grasu, cornerback Troy Hill, wide receiver Keanon Lowe, linebacker Tony Washington and offensive guard Hamani Stevens. Stevens will be the oldest player in the game. He signed at Oregon in 2008 before leaving for a two-year religious mission.

Where are the five-star recruits?

Star Ranking*

Ohio State

Oregon

3

2

18

15

10

17

*according to 247Sports Composite

• Both teams pull their share of top recruits, so it’s a bit of a shock to see only a combined five five-star prospects getting significant snaps for Oregon and Ohio State. Maybe that has something to do with the lack of the recruiting-mad SEC in the title game.

• That said, all of the five-star prospects in this game are playing major roles: Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and linebacker Curtis Grant are all starters. Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead is a starter. The lone exception is running back Thomas Tyner, who led Oregon in rushing in the Rose Bowl.

• Another unexpected twist: The best recruit for either team in the last five recruiting cycles isn’t on the roster. Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence, the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012, was declared permanently ineligible earlier this season amid positive drug tests. Meanwhile, the most decorated player in the game, Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, was a three-star prospect.

• Oregon did an exceptional job of locating and developing three-star talent. Besides Mariota, Oregon’s best three offensive linemen (Grasu, Stevens and Jake Fisher) were three-star prospects as were the Ducks’ three starting linebackers.

• And let’s not paint with too broad a brush: Ohio State unearthed some good three stars itself in linebacker Darron Lee and quarterback Cardale Jones.

• Between the two of them, Oregon and Ohio State started only two junior college prospects all season and only one of them (Oregon linebacker Joe Walker) started in the semifinals. Ohio State signed two players out of high school but needed to wait for them to return from a prep school. They were worth the wait — the prep school Buckeyes were Cardale Jones and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

From coast to coast

• Few surprises here. Ohio State grabbed a majority of its key players from in-state with 22 Ohioans starting games for the Buckeyes this season. No other state pulled more than two. Oregon pulled 15 starters from the state of California, primarily from the Los Angeles metro area.

• Ohio State has one starter who went to high school in the West in Michael Thomas of Woodland Hills, Calif. Ohio State recruited him twice, once from his California high school and once from prep school in Virginia. Oregon, meanwhile, has four key players it recruited from a Big Ten state.

• The hometown crowd might not be too fired up about this: The game will feature more players from the state of Hawaii than the state of Texas. Oregon has two starters from Honolulu in Mariota and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. Ohio State started two players from Texas this season — quarterback J.T. Barrett and receiver Dontre Wilson.