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2015 Rose Bowl Preview

College Football Playoff: Playoff Semifinal

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

#2 Oregon (12-1, 7-1 Pac-12) vs. #3 Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC)

Date: Thursday, January 1, 2015
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Pasadena, CA
Stadium: Rose Bowl
Television: ESPN
Series Record: First meeting

Florida State and Oregon have never met on the gridiron and the initial match-up between the programs will come in the inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinals in the Rose Bowl.

The Seminoles, who haven’t lost since 2012, have the nation’s longest winning streak at 29 games and will look to advance to play either Alabama or Ohio State for an opportunity to win their second straight national title (fourth overall).

While FSU is perfect for a second consecutive season, the Noles have been challenged much more in 2014 than during last year’s title run—which was capped with a thrilling last-second victory over Auburn in Pasadena.

A year ago, the Seminoles steamrolled most opponents, as only Boston College (48-34 in Chestnut Hills) played Jimbo Fisher’s club closer than 27 points prior to the Rose Bowl.

However, this year, seven games were decided by a touchdown or less and the Seminoles were forced to rally from deficits of 16 or more at NC State, Louisville and Miami.

On the other hand, Oregon—which is seeking the program’s first-ever national title—isn’t undefeated, but the Ducks have been more dominant en route to their 12-1 record and Pac-12 title.

Mark Helfrich, who is 23-3 in two years after taking over the reins when Chip Kelly bolted Eugene to try his hand with the Philadelphia Eagles, has seen his club collect all but one of its victories by at least 12 points. The Ducks’ loss was a 31-24 home setback to Arizona on October 2, but Oregon avenged that with a 51-13 rout of the Wildcats in the Pac-12 title game.

Both teams are best known for their Heisman Trophy-winning signal-callers.

After a spectacular freshman campaign in 2013 that earned him the Heisman Trophy, Jameis Winston hasn’t been nearly as consistent as a sophomore. The Seminole signal-caller has completed 65 percent of his attempts for more than 3,500 yards, but he has struggled to protect the football as he’s thrown 17 interceptions (compared to 24 touchdowns).

Meanwhile, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota took home this year’s Heisman honors after accounting for nearly 4,500 yards of total offense and 52 touchdowns. Mariota, who has completed 68.3 percent of his 372 attempts, threw for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns while getting intercepted only twice all season. The tremendous dual threat ran for 669 yards (5.7 ypc) and 14 touchdowns.

As a three-year starter, Mariota has thrown for more than 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns (versus only 12 interceptions) while also running for more than 2,000 yards and nearly 30 scores.

Offensively, FSU features more of a traditional pro-style approach.

After averaging more than 50 points per game in 2013, Winston and company are producing almost 35 points per game this season and have executed under pressure when playing from behind.

The ground attack is led by the combo of freshman Dalvin Cook (905 yards, 8 TD, 5.8 ypc) and senior Karlos Williams (609 yards, 10 TD, 4.4 ypc).

Rashad Greene, who has 93 receptions for 1,306 yards and seven scores, leads the team in each of those categories and is Winston’s top option in the passing game.

Tight end Nick O’Leary is another top option, as he has 47 catches for 614 yards and six touchdowns—all numbers that rank second.

Oregon’s defense is giving up more than 400 yards per game—413.8 to be exact—but the Ducks are a solid 29th in scoring defense (22.5) and have produced 34 sacks (32nd nationally).

Senior Erick Dargan tops the team with 82 tackles and six interceptions.

Junior defensive lineman DeForest Bucker, who stands 6’7” and 290 pounds, leads the team with 12 tackles for loss and also has four sacks.
The team leader in sacks is junior linebacker Christian French. French has just 22 tackles, but a team best 6.5 sacks.

Supplementing Mariota and helping make the Duck attack that produces 46 points and nearly 550 yards go is a potent ground game that yields 237.3 yards per contest. Freshman Royce Freeman rolled up 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead the way.

The Ducks have six receivers with four or more touchdown receptions. Junior Byron Marshall has a team-high 61 catches for 814 yards. Devon Allen (41-684-7), Dwayne Stanford (37-557-7) and Pharoah Brown (25-420-6) are other top targets.

Defensively, Florida State will present a test for sure, but they’re not the dominant unit they were a season ago. The Seminoles are bending, but not breaking in most games. FSU allows more than 380 yards, but only 23 points.

The linebackers are solid, as starters Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith are tops on the team in tackles with 113 and 85, respectively.
The secondary is highlighted by P.J. Williams. Williams, who is an NFL caliber cover corner, has 60 tackles, an interception and is second on the team in pass break-ups (10).

Mario Edwards, Jr. (44 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks) and Eddie Goldman (35 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks) help apply pressure for a defense that has just 17 sacks on the year.

Both teams appear to be solid in the kicking game with the most dangerous return threats belonging to Oregon. Charles Nelson has only 11 opportunities returning punts, but has taken two back for scores.

If the game comes down to a field goal, give the edge to FSU. Roberto Aguayo has been nearly perfect. He is 25-of-27 and is a perfect 16-of-16 inside 40 yards.

While Oregon has certainly played in plenty of big games, FSU has an edge in terms of experience on the game’s biggest stage due to playing in last year’s title game and winning it. With them being so battle tested, expect them to be in this one to the end. However, the Ducks have played more consistently of late and don’t be surprised to see the Seminoles finally come up just a little short.

Rose Bowl Prediction: Oregon 38 - Florida State 31


By Thomas Rosenbaum
DFN Sports Staff Writer

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