#2 Oregon vs. #4 Ohio State
January 12 at 5 p.m. Pacific
What's At Stake:
Very simply and most importantly, the winner of the game is the 2014 college football champion. For Oregon, this would be their first national title in football - a huge deal! For Ohio State it would be their 8th, the most recent other one being in 2002. Also big, but 2002 was not that long ago.
Also to consider - particularly if Oregon wins - is that this game will signal a break from the real or perceive "SEC dominance" in college football. Why? A couple reasons:
- First, look how poorly the SEC did in bowl games this season. SEC teams went 7-5 in bowls, and teams from the touted SEC West conference went 0-5 when up against quality non-conference foes. While 7-5 is a winning bowl record for the conference, it's also not great and all the "big time" teams lost. Over-rated.
- Next, this will be the second year in a row that that the SEC will not have won the title. Yes, last year Auburn was in the game, but they did not win it. And why would the break be more pronounced if Oregon wins? Well, the Big 10 has a long tradition of OSU, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin (and to a lesser degree Iowa) being perennial big time, big stage teams that can win it all. The Pac-12? No. Outside of USC, it's been 23 years since any other league team won the national title (Washington) and even then it was a co-title with Miami. So, showing that a non-USC team from the west can win the title will really will show how things have migrated away from the SEC.
How they got here: The Ducks defeated defending national title holder Florida State in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day by the dominating score of 50-20, securing their place in the title game. Prior to that, they reached the "final four" of college football after reeling off a 12-1 record and a Pac-12 title with the only loss coming early in the season to a ranked Arizona squad and with a lot of injuries that had decimated the Ducks' offensive line.
Since the Rose Bowl: Starting WR Devon Allen injured his knee on the first play of the Rose Bowl and will not play against Ohio State. Also, Oregon announced the uniforms they will wear for the big game and, much to the disappointment of many Oregon fans, there is no green or yellow in them...they're all white with grey/silver accents.
Strengths: A fast, talented, deep and dangerous offense that runs at a rapid tempo to rack up yards and exhaust the opposing defense. And, this offense is operated by Heisman Trophy winning QB Marcus Mariota - equally deadly with his arm and legs. Also, the UO defense has really come on over the past few games to play more physical football and ramped up their already impressive ability to cause and get turnovers.
Weaknesses: It's hard to point out weaknesses in a team that has made it this far, but if I had to say it would be the linebackers. They played well against FSU (Rose Bowl) and Arizona (Pac-12 title game), but there is the potential for them to get pushed around by a big physical offensive line Hell bent on blowing holes open up the middle. Also, the Ducks just don't have a reliable kicker. It's a crap shoot any time UO lines up for a FG or extra point.
Opportunities: Use superior speed and size at RB and WR to hit the Buckeyes on the edges, over the middle and then long. On Defense, get pressure on the young OSU QB with a rush off the edge and force him to make mistakes. You think that's not possible? Ask Jamis Winston how things went in the Rose Bowl.
Players to Watch: #8 QB Mariota, #24 RB Tyner, #9 DE Armstead and any Oregon LB.
What Oregon Fans Say: This ain't the same team OSU played in the Rose Bowl a few years back. We've got more talent, more size, more speed and a much better QB. OSU will not be able to match us for a full 60 minutes. Get ready Buckeyes, it's coming.
Oregon Fans' Secret Fear: A repeat of the 2010 Rose Bowl against OSU in which a) the Buckeyes did indeed "out-physical" Oregon, b) the Ducks made big mistakes (fumbled a sure-fire, take-the-lead TD away for example), c) the Buckeyes QB had the game of his career...all adding up to a 9 point loss for the Ducks. All that, or the game comes down to a field goal.
How they got here: The Buckeyes upset #1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl by the score of 42-35 on New Years Day to secure their spot in the title game. They made it into the football playoff with a 12-1 record that was notable for the fact that they did a lot of it with their backup QB following their starter going down in pre-season with an injury...and now their third string QB at the helm following his predecessor also going down with an injury. Lets put it this way, the title game will be the Buckeye QB's third career college start.
Since the Rose Bowl: Nothing to report as far as I can tell. No big injuries.
Strengths: Big offensive and defensive lines, a 1,600 yard RB, great depth at WR and (obviously QB) and an opportunistic defense.
Weaknesses: Again, it's difficult to find a true weakness in a final-two team, but I'll go with they are perhaps not as fast and athletic as Oregon's squad and their QB - for all his impressive play in two games - is indeed making this third start and it's against the fastest and biggest turnover-making D he'll have seen.
Opportunities for OSU: Establish a running game up the gut and off tackle given the aggressive nature of the Oregon DEs and the relatively smaller size of Duck LBs. If they can do that, look out. Conversely, if the Ohio State defensive front can get a push up the middle against Oregon's offensive line, they can disrupt Oregon's offense...think about what Auburn did to the Ducks in the 2011 Title Game.
Players to Watch: On offense, watch QB #12 Jones, RB #15 Elliot. On defense, watch the line play...are OSU players pushing the Oregon line backwards? Are they getting sacks?
What Ohio State Fans Say: We're bigger and stronger than Oregon and we will beat them just like we did in the 2010 Rose Bowl. Duck fans, get ready to be run over.
Buckeye Fans' Secret Fear: Oregon "does a Rose Bowl" on the Buckeyes, suddenly turning a close game into a blowout in the third or fourth quarter.
HOW THIS GAME WILL UNFOLD
I think this game is going to go just about like every other game Oregon has played this season. It will be close in the first half with one team ahead by a small amount (10 or less) at the break. OSU will have success on both sides of the ball and Oregon's offense will sputter a bit in the beginning. And then, in the second half, Oregon will assert itself with adjustments. Their offense will score fast and the defense will create a turnover or two. In the end, I think it'll be lower scoring than the Rose or Sugar Bowls, but I do think the Ducks will win pulling away.
I say it'll be UO 37-OSU 24.