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It has been an incredible college football season and we offer up one final game preview, this one from both angles. Regardless, we hope you enjoy the piece and of course enjoy the game.
- OREGON DUCKS VS. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES -
After decades of dreaming about it, years demanding it, and months arguing about it, the Playoff Era is finally here. The old BCS system would have produced a National Championship Game of #1 Florida State (only undefeated) and #2 Alabama (SEC Champion), but with both of those squads losing in the National Semifinals, the new system is instantly validated. It was a truly special New Years’ Day, not just because it offered us matchups of Heisman-winning quarterbacks and legendary coaches, but just the notion that January 1 is once again the true college football holiday like in years past. With Mariota outclassing Winston and Meyer outwitting Saban, the scene is set for the National Title.
With the Bucks meeting the Ducks it will be the bluebloods vs. the “newbloods.” Ohio State is among the top 5 winningest programs in the history of college football and already touts 7 recognized National Titles along with 7 Heisman winners. The Buckeye brand is as national as it gets, the helmet stickers an iconic tradition that all generations are familiar with. Meanwhile, the Oregon Ducks are the new kids on the block. A relatively newer program on the national scene, Oregon has been dominant the past decade as they boast the sport’s most wins over the last 10 years AND the last 5 years. Only relevant since the video game era, their fast-paced, high-scoring offense fittingly puts up video game stats. They have used new-age tactics such as their flashy, ever-changing uniforms and their state-of-the-art facilities to rapidly build their brand. The revolution has been building up to this crowning moment, as the school’s first Heisman winner looks to bring home the school’s first National Championship.
In our annual August preview, we correctly predicted all four playoff teams, but the way the season unfolded was hardly foreseeable. Ohio State has overcome the loss of two star quarterbacks, replaced 4/5 of its offensive line, and developed young talent across the board, making this arguably Urban Meyer’s finest coaching job yet. When Meyer took over in 2012, he envisioned creating an SEC-type team in the Big Ten; 3 full seasons and recruiting classes later, that dream is now a reality. By beating Alabama, the Buckeyes have overcome their SEC troubles that cost them titles in 2006 and 2007. The offense is thriving behind playmakers at each position: Devin Smith has been unstoppable at WR, Ezekiel Elliot a workhorse at RB. Speedster WR/RB Jalin Marshall is just another weapon in the arsenal. It all revolves around fearless 3rd stringer Cardale Jones. One would expect a first-time starter to have some jitters or growing pains, especially when the 1st 3 starts are a Conference Championship, the Sugar Bowl, and the National Championship. But Cardale Jones has been efficient, makes sound decisions, and knows when to tuck the ball rather than force throws. His poise is noteworthy; nothing fazes the guy! Meanwhile, the Silver Bullet defense will face the 3 Heisman Finalists in consecutive games. For as balanced an attack that Alabama offered, Oregon will be an even tougher test. I expect Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and the rest of the defensive line to harass Mariota enough to rattle him a bit. Equally as important is the overall speed on defense that will be able to matchup with the Duck attack. LB Darron Lee is a perfect example of this, a missile that blew up the Alabama backfield time and again.
The Oregon offense set a Rose Bowl record – 59 points, and hopes to race to its first national title. Mariota will be without leading receiver Devon Allen, so more emphasis will be placed on their speed rush attack led by freshman (Rolls) Royce Freeman. The evolution of this offensive line has been intriguing, but its toughest test lies ahead Monday night. Defensively, the Ducks gave up a ton of yardage (529) but forced 5 Seminole turnovers. This has been the trend all season long, as the Ducks are the #1 ranked team in turnover margin, extremely efficient on offense and explosive on defense. The loss of All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will certainly hurt against this dynamic receiving core.
Cardale Jones doesn’t have to be Marcus Mariota. Cardale Jones needs to be Cardale Jones: play within himself, limit mistakes, distribute the ball, and play smart and gritty. Such an effort reminds me of a certain Craig Krenzel who fearlessly led the Buckeyes to their most recent crystal ball in 2002. While the defense may be missing Mike Doss, Matt Wilhelm, and Will Smith, it boasts a playmaking core of its own. And while he doesn’t wear a sweater vest, Urban Meyer does knows a bit about winning titles – he and the 2014 Buckeyes will hoist another crystal football...
OHIO STATE 41 OREGON 36
It’s gotta be tough being an Oregon fan. Sure, most non-Oregon fans are saying “I would take Oregon’s program in a heartbeat.” And they would be right. Oregon has more wins than any team in the last five years. But it has been a long time that Oregon’s goal has been a National Championship only to come up short time after time. And a second-place finish this year wouldn’t even signify a step forward. The Ducks have been there. In 2010, Oregon lost to the Cam Newton-led Auburn Tigers in the BCS National Championship game 22-19. This year, however, looks to be the best chance. For once, Oregon truly looks like the best team in the country. Not the second best. Not “in the top three.” The best. They have the best player in the country at the most important position and they haven’t really come close to slipping up in quite some time. In the last nine games, the closest a team has come is twelve points. If it weren’t for a shaky early season start, people would take notice that this team has been as dominant as the 2013 Florida State team.
While the Rose Bowl game wasn’t truly as uneven as the score would indicate, the Oregon offense surely left no doubt. Aside from an initial three-and-out, the Mariota-led attack moved the ball like they were playing against the air. The Florida State defense was known for showing up in spurts. With elite talent, there were always flashes of greatness. Not last week, when Oregon rolled up 639 yards—over 300 yards through both the air and on the ground. Do I even need to touch on the defense? It’s not a legendary unit, but it is good. Leading tackler Erick Dargan is a difference-maker on the back end and DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are cyborgs up front. I don’t expect this defense to shut down the Ohio State attack. But after doing enough to slow down Jameis Winston, who played well for most of the game, I think they can handle the Buckeye attack. Winston takes a lot of heat for interceptions and poor decision making, but when he is at his best, nobody can match him. And he was at his best until Dalvin Cook’s fumbles put the game out of reach.
Ohio State should provide more resistance on defense than Florida State, but Oregon should get a few more stops themselves against the Buckeyes. Offensively, they’ve seen stout defenses. Against UCLA, a team littered with NFL talent in their front seven, Oregon averaged 6.29 yards per carry. Against Stanford, 5.8 yards per carry. Against Michigan State, when they hadn’t quite hit their stride yet, 4.33 yards per carry. This team is truly dominant. Urban Meyer doesn’t get 4 weeks to prepare. Thank the new Playoff system. Ducks roll...
OREGON 48 OHIO STATE 35