2015 CFB National Championship Preview
College Football Playoff: National Championship Game
#2 Oregon (13-1, 7-1 Pac-12) vs. #4 Ohio State (13-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Date: Monday, January 12, 2015
The inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game will feature two of the nation’s most consistent programs over the last several years.
Oregon, which is seeking the program’s first national title, has compiled a stellar 80-13 record over the last seven seasons and will compete in the championship game for the second time in five years. The Ducks, which dropped a 22-19 decision to Auburn in the BCS Championship Game on January 10, 2011, are 24-3 over the last two seasons under Mark Helfrich and have already won a school-record 13 games this year.
With the financial commitment from famous alum and Nike co-founder/chairman Phil Knight, Oregon’s flashy facilities and uniforms have helped the program land more top talent and win more than ever. After not winning more than nine games in their first 100-plus years, the Ducks have posted ten or more victories ten times in the last 15 seasons.
Meanwhile, Ohio State is certainly no stranger to playing for national titles. The Buckeyes, who are 37-3 over the last three seasons under Urban Meyer, are seeking their eighth title and first since 2002. OSU played for the title in 2006 and 2007, but fell to Florida and LSU in those BCS Championship games.
Both semi-final games featured large runs by the victorious team.
Leading the defending champs just 25-20 midway through the third quarter, Oregon—who led nearly the entire game—proceeded to force fumble after fumble by Florida State and those miscues aided the Ducks in scoring 34 unanswered points to cruise to the 59-20 victory in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State found itself down 21-6 to Alabama late in the first half, but the Buckeyes scored four unanswered touchdowns that spanned both halves to open up a 34-21 lead late in the third quarter. OSU led 42-28 in the game’s waning minutes, but was forced to hold off a late Crimson Tide rally to prevail 42-35.
Both teams feature very potent offenses, but with very different situations at quarterback.
Oregon is led by third-year starter and this year’s Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Mariota, who is a tremendous dual threat, has accounted for more than 4,800 yards of total offense and 55 touchdowns. As a passer, the Hawaii-native has thrown for 4,111 yards and 40 touchdowns while completing nearly 70 percent of his attempts. Against FSU, Mariota was 26-of-36 for 338 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 62 yards on eight attempts.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s signal-caller is sophomore Cardale Jones. Jones, who made his first career start in Buckeyes’ 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, has played very well in the absence of J.T. Barrett. The 6’5”, 250-pounder has thrown for 500 yards with four touchdowns. More importantly, he has taken care of the football. Jones has thrown just one interception while also demonstrating he has excellent mobility and can pull the ball down and run when needed.
Mariota and Jones have exceptional supporting casts—particularly Mariota, as the Ducks have some of the best offensive skill talent in the game.
Oregon’s offense has produced staggering numbers the last several years and this season has definitely been no different.
Royce Freeman, who led the Pac-12 in rushing, has 1,343 yards and 18 scores. However, it was Thomas Tyner—who had missed the last three games due to an injury—that led the way against Florida State. Tyner finished with 124 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
Mariota has a plethora of options in the passing game despite Devon Allen, the team’s leader in touchdown receptions with seven, going down with a knee injury on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl. The Ducks average 10.1 yards per pass attempt and have had 31 pass plays of 30 yards or more.
Byron Marshall, who is also a major threat in the run game (51 for 383; 7.5 ypc), has a team-high 66 catches for 834 yards.
Darren Carrington led Oregon receivers with seven catches for 165 yards and two scores against the Seminoles. Dwayne Stanford, Keanon Lowe, and Evan Baylis are other viable options. Baylis, a sophomore tight end, had six catches for 73 yards versus FSU although he had just four receptions prior to the semifinal game.
The Ducks’ offensive line was banged up mid-season, but the unit is nearing full strength and Oregon’s production is certainly reflecting it.
Against Alabama, OSU allowed 35 points and more than 500 yards, but it was able to get pressure on and affect Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims. Sims was sacked three times and also threw three picks in the season-ending loss.
Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, two of the unit’s leaders, had interceptions in the game. Bell has a team-high six picks on the year while Powell is third on the club with four. The duo also ranks second and fourth, respectively, in tackles.
Freshman linebacker Darron Lee, who is third on the team with 73 stops, is second on the team in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (7.5).
Inexperienced quarterback Cardale Jones has benefitted from the Buckeyes’ excellent ground attack starring Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott, a 225-pound sophomore, has rushed for 1,632 yards and had 230 against the Crimson Tide.
Michael Thomas, the team’s leading receiver (50-746-9), had seven catches for 66 yards against Alabama. Jalin Marshall (33-447-6) and Devin Smith (32-886-12) are other major threats. Smith is the team’s top big play threat, as he averages an eye-opening 27.7 yards per reception.
The Oregon defense is of the bend, but don’t break variety. However, don’t underestimate their ability because they allow more than 420 yards per game—a number that is largely due to the opposition running more plays because of the Ducks’ fast-paced offense. They allow 22 points per game—just like OSU—and do a tremendous job of forcing turnovers. Oregon has forced 30 miscues this season and is an incredible plus 20 in turnover margin. The Ducks have won or tied the turnover battle in all 14 games up to this point.
Jones will have to be aware of Erick Dargan, who has collected seven of the team’s 12 interceptions.
Don’t be surprised if this game is similar to the Sugar Bowl and features a lot of offense.
Each of these teams makes it a habit of winning the turnover battle. The one that is able to continue that trend and play the best red zone defense will likely find itself on top in what promises to be a very entertaining first College Football Playoff Championship Game in “Jerry’s World”.
Urban and his Buckeyes will make it a thriller, but Mark Helfrich and his Ducks will find a way to get it done and win Oregon’s first national championship on the gridiron.
CFB Playoff Championship Game Prediction: Oregon 41 - Ohio State 34
By Thomas Rosenbaum
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