Monday, December 29, 2014

2015 Rose Bowl Prediction

#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State
January 1 at 2 p.m. Pacific
Rose Bowl Stadium
Pasadena, CA

What's At Stake: 
The winner: 1) is Rose Bowl champion, and 2) goes on to play in the national championship game against the winner of #1 Alabama vs. #4 Ohio State.

2014 season recap: The Ducks  racked up a 12-1 record in 2014. Mostly, they rolled the teams they played. Save the one Oct. game against Arizona (a close loss) and the game right before that against WSU (a close win), the Ducks put the hurt on the teams they matched up against. Those earlier close ones can mostly be attributed to offensive line injuries. That, and the Duck D seemed to take the "bend but don't break/keep it all in front of you" strategy to an extreme. More positively, Oregon beat currently and at-the-time ranked teams, including: Michigan State, UCLA, Utah and Arizona  in the league title game. They also beat Washington (a team with three All-Americans on their defense) soundly and for the 11tth year in a row. I would summarize the Ducks as such: wicked potent offense with the best QB in the nation + a ton of talent all over the field complemented by a fast but frustrating "don't give up the big play" defense that at times is super frustrating to watch. But, that combination delivered 12 wins.
Since the end of the season: There have been two big developments for the Ducks since they won the Pac-12 title game - one good, one bad. On the upside, QB Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football this season. The negative is that Oregon's All-American cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu injured his knee in practice and will not be able to play in the Rose Bowl.
Strengths: The Ducks have all to the pieces in place on offense to move the ball on the ground and through the air...and put up points. Also, the Ducks seem to find turn overs. And, speed on special teams means they can break one any time.
Weaknesses: Oregon does not field a defense that is just going to shut a team down. Yes, they did do that to Arizona in their last game and at key times against UCLA and Michigan State. But, that was not the norm across the entire season. All told, teams can work the ball down the field pretty easily on Oregon. Also, the Ducks do not have a field goal kicker that it can rely on outside of about 20 yards...and even then it's a nervous moment for Duck fans.
Opportunities: Oregon's offense can exploit an FSU defense that has not seen thee speed, tempo and talent at QB and RB that the Ducks bring. Special teams - particularly punt returns - could be magic.
Players to watch: On offense, #8 Mariota of course. Also keep an eye on the entire offensive line and how well #21 RB Freeman is running the ball. On defense, how much of a rush does the Oregon defensive line get? See how #9 Armistead does in getting to the QB and how does the now-depleted secondary fare against FSU's passing game? On special teams, watch speedy returner #6 Nelson.
What Oregon fans say: FSU plays in a weak league and has barely escaped many times this season. In the Pac-12 they would have lost several games. FSU QB Winston is an interception throwing machine...and the Ducks feast on turnovers. Oh, and good luck stopping the Oregon offense for four quarters.
Oregon fans' secret fear: FSU QB Winston picks apart the Oregon secondary on the way to multiple scores while their D line slows down the Mariota machine on offense. That, or the game comes down to a filed goal attempt by the Oregon kicker.

Florida State
2014 season recap: The Seminoles' season was basically a series of "great escapes" in which they fell behind in the first half and then came back in the second half to win...usually by a narrow margins. Throw in some easy wins over weak ACC teams and they ended at 13-0. Their marquee wins were against ranked Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech squads. Their offense runs the ball decently, but earns its yards and points by QB Winston throwing the ball. He has a talent for firing the ball into narrow windows, but sometimes (all too often for FSU fans) those balls are picked off. But hey, they've won 29 games in a row. On defense, the Seminoles do let teams score. They gave up 31 to Oklahoma State, 41 to NC State, 27 to Notre Dame and 31 to Louisville. So, we're not talking about an SEC-style/shut-down D here. But again...two straight undefeated seasons.
Since the end of the season: Not much news...which is good for a squad that has had some players get into trouble off the field.
Strengths: On offense, clearly QB Winston is a leader and can throw the ball really well. On defense, their line is big and athletic. And, they have a very good place kicker.
Weaknesses: FSU's defense is susceptible to the spread offense, a fast tempo and a mobile QB. Guess what Oregon does? Also, QB Winston does throw too many interceptions.
Opportunities: Throwing the ball to move it down the field against Oregon's "keep it in front of us" defense (now also minus its best cover man due to injury), having their big defensive linemen disrupt running lanes and making Oregon's QB scramble. The ability to win the game with a long field goal.
Players to watch: On offense, #5 QB Winston, tight end #85 O'Leary and #80 receiver Greene. On defense, I say watch the FSU line play. Are they getting into the Oregon backfield regularly? Are they making Oregon's QB to scramble and denying Duck RBs the ability to get to the corner?
What FSU fans say: We're current national champs - you are not. We've won 29 in a row - you have not. Oregon plays in the weak Pac-12 and have never seen the size, speed and aggressiveness of this FSU team.
FSU fans' secret fear: Oregon rips FSU for 50+ points aided by QB Winston throwing multiple interceptions...and no amount of second half heroics matter.

How It Will Unfold
Considering all of the above, here is how I think this game will go...

First Quarter
FSU has success stopping the rusty Oregon offense while the FSU O moves the ball through the air with short, efficient passes that reduce the chances of Winston throwing an interception - and they score a TD early. Oregon fans' worst fears are being realized. FSU's "ball control" keeps Oregon's offense off the field and the Ducks off the scoreboard...for the moment. However, Oregon's D stiffens and holds the Seminoles twice to field goals.

Score at the end of the first quarter: FSU 13-UO 0

Second Quarter
Oregon gets its running game going and makes FSU pay for over-aggressively rushing Mariota. The Ducks get a score. Winston throws a pick and the Ducks convert into a FG. Yes, a FG by Oregon. But, FSU strikes again for another TD by throwing long against the guy replacing Oregon's All-American CB Ekpre-Olomu.

Score at halftime: FSU 20-UO 10

Third Quarter
The Ducks get a great kick return the first time they touch the ball in the second half - setting up a TD pass from Mariota. Oregon's defense comes out with some adjustments that puts more pressure on Winston - making him throw poorer passes and getting sacked a few times. With this comes a couple more possessions for Oregon's offense - and a FG and TD. FSU eeks out a FG during the quarter.

Score at the end of the third quarter: UO 27-FSU 23

Fourth Quarter
Oregon fumbles the ball in their own end and FSU converts into a TD, taking the lead again. However, the Ducks come right back and score quickly. Now, it's down to who can stop who? I say three-plus quarters of Oregon's offensive attack starts to take its toll on FSU's defensive players and Oregon's offense hits the accelerator - scoring twice. Meanwhile, FSU becomes desperate as time is running out...they get a TD. It's UO 41-FSU 37 with a couple minutes left.

FSU makes a mistake...a fumble, a pick, failing to convert of fourth down. This seals the deal for them. Oregon takes advantage to win, and even scores one more before the clock runs out.

Final Score
UO 48-FSU 37

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