ate University v. the University of Oregon. The Big Ten champion Bucks will meet the Pac-12 champion Ducks in Arlington, Texas on Jan. 12 to decide the national title in the first year of our new postseason system.
Oregon (2) v. Ohio State (4)
Oregon (2) 59 v. Florida State (3) 20
Ohio State (4) 42 v. Alabama (1) 35
The Ducks (13-1) and Buckeyes (13-1) last met in the Rose Bowl in 2010. Ohio State won that game 26-17. Much more will be at stake this time around.
Ohio State is seeking its first national title since 2002 and seventh in their program’s storied history. Oregon is seeking its first, period, having lost to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Odds makers have tabbed the Ducks as early seven-point favorites.
The playoff, a four-team tournament which replaced the Bowl Championship Series, has given a boost to college football. The teams, had the BCS still been operational this year, would have been No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State with no semifinal impediment to hurdle. We would have sympathized with the No. 3 team, Oregon, and then accepted the title game for what it was after a few hours of contentious debate.
How They Got Here
Oregon became the first team to score 50 points in the history of the Rose Bowl in handing Florida State the worst bowl loss by a defending national championship since 1936. The Ducks racked up 639 yards of total offense and outscored the defending champs 41-7 in the second half en route to a 59-20 victory. Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota handed reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston his first collegiate loss, ending FSU’s 29-game winning streak.
Ohio State, playing its third-team quarterback, stunned top-seeded Alabama in the Sugar bowl. The Buckeyes, a nine-point underdog, spent the night pushing the No. 1 team in the nation around in a physical game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 42-35 final score suggested. Sophomore Cardale Jones turned in a savvy performance in his second collegiate start at quarterback and Ezekiel Elliott ran for a Sugar Bowl record 230 yards to earn a shot at No. 2 Oregon in the National Championship Game.
On the Sidelines
This is what Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had in mind when he took over the Buckeyes in 2012, having taken a year off from coaching, after leading Florida to a pair of national titles. Coming from the SEC, Meyer knew what he had to do to resurrect a fallen Big Ten program: Recruit more speed. Play with more physicality. And turn central Ohio into the SEC North. Few coaches have a better postseason track record than Meyer, who is 8-2 in bowls and 2-0 in national championship games. After just three years on the job, he's one win away from reaching his goal.
Oregon’s native son Mark Helfrich previously served as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012. The second-year head coach took over after the departure of Philadelphia Eagles front man Chip Kelly and the program hasn’t missed a beat. While Kelly led the Ducks to unprecedented success with a fire and brimstone approach, Helfrich – on the surface – has been more laid-back than his predecessor. He’s compiled a 24-3 record in Eugene and is 2-0 in the bowl games, including last year’s win over the University of Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
The Ducks are best known for three things: their never-ending uniform combinations (which transform in color and style each week thanks to Nike chairman Phil Knight); their exhaustive pace of play (an up-tempo, rush-heavy spread attack); and their decorated quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Nobody has scored more touchdowns (88) than the Ducks this season, who are second in the nation in average yards per play (7.39).
Meyer has built the Buckeyes in the same way he built those championship-caliber Gators teams: with SEC size and speed. He recruits aggressively. He prioritizes combine measurables. And his defense looks much the same as it did at Florida. Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee has stuffed the stat sheet in every conceivable way this season while fellow classmate Joey Bosa leads a talented front four.
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
Marcus Mariota, the newly crowned Heisman winner, outpaced most challengers this season in every offensive statistical category, and by fairly wide margins. He leads the nation in pass efficiency and boasts a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40-3. Like all upper-echelon quarterbacks, Mariota’s ultimate legacy at Oregon will revolve around what happens on Jan. 12, and whether his team can punctuate his illustrious career with a national championship.
Ohio State’s Cardale Jones – Mariota’s counterpart in Arlington – remains relatively unknown despite being 2-0 as a starter in leading the Buckeyes to victories in the Big Ten championship and Sugar Bowl. After his two starts in place of injured phenoms Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, Jones has shown the bruising running style that recruiting services touted when he originally enrolled at OSU. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore has completed 40 of his 69 pass attempts for over 600 yards and a 159.9 passer rating, which would rank seventh-best nationally if it held for the length of a season. His NFL-caliber arm has given Buckeye wide receivers a chance to stretch the field, a threat that Meyer has chased since he arrived on campus in 2012.
Seven Key Stats
- Both teams rank in the top 5 nationally in points per game, with Ohio State averaging 45 points (fifth), and Oregon just over 47 (third).
- The Buckeyes have scored at least 31 points all but once this season, while the Ducks have dipped below the 38 mark just one time.
- The Ducks ran a play every 20.2 seconds against Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
- Oregon leads the nation in turnover margin (+20) while Ohio State follows shortly behind at No. 17 (+10).
- The Buckeyes, 36-3 (.923) overall under Meyer, have the second-highest winning percentage among FBS teams since the start of 2012. The Ducks are just behind with a record of 36-4 (.900) in the same span.
- Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa led the Big Ten in both sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.0) this season – good for fourth and eighth nationally.
- During the last four years, Ohio State is 22-0 when senior wide receiver Devin Smith catches a touchdown pass.
Worth the Wait
The College Football Playoff has proven invaluable after only eight spectacular hours and one magnificent, monumental upset. It’s provided the type of postseason atmosphere that fans have longed for. While not perfect, the playoff has fulfilled our need to find the nation’s two best teams to play for the most important trophy in college football. This should be one heck of a game.
See the game in person
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