National Championship Preview: #2 Oregon faces off with #4 Ohio State

college football playoffThe old BCS system would have matched up defending national champion Florida State and Alabama for the 2015 national title, and reduced Oregon and Ohio State to a meaningless, if entertaining, rose bowl.

But this is year one of the college football playoff era, and so we still get Oregon and Ohio State, but after the second-ranked Ducks ripped #3 Florida State, 59-20, and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes rallied to top #1 Alabama, 42-35, in last week’s national semifinals, it’s for all the marbles this go-round.

Oregon is getting all the love from Vegas, which has installed the Ducks as a six-point favorite, probably on the strength of the blowout win over the Seminoles, but that’s dismissing the value of what Ohio State was able to do to Alabama if that is the case.

Remember that ‘Bama was supposed to stomp its way past Ohio State and its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, stifling the Buckeyes’ offense and knifing through the OSU defense as if through hot butter, but then there’s a reason we still actually play the games, and honestly if Ohio State hadn’t had a couple of miscues in the first half that gave the Tide a working margin, the Buckeyes may have won by three touchdowns.

Enough conjecture. Let’s break it down.

Ohio State offense vs. Oregon defense: The Buckeyes put up 537 yards of total offense in the win over Alabama, 281 on the ground, which is most telling considering that the Tide had given up 82 yards per game coming in. Ezekiel Elliot ran for 230 yards on 20 carries against ‘Bama, pushing his season total to 1,632 yards, 6.9 yards per carry. Jones was 18-for-35 passing for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception in the semifinal win, his second career start. So yeah, Ohio State can move the ball. Oregon doesn’t exactly stop you, giving up 421.9 yards per game, but the Ducks do a solid job in the red zone, allowing opponents touchdowns on just 60 percent of their red-zone opportunities, a trend that we saw continue in the win over Florida State, which scored two TDs on its five trips into the red zone in its semifinal loss.

Oregon offense vs. Ohio State defense: Um, Marcus Mariota. Does that say enough? The Heisman Trophy winner threw for 338 yards, ran for 62, accounted for three touchdowns overall, though he did throw his third interception of the season in the win over FSU. Oregon gained an absurd 639 yards against the ‘Noles. Ohio State allowed 407 yards offense to ‘Bama, but overall defense is a strength of this team, giving up 333.6 yards per game to opponents, with the one area of weakness being red-zone defense. Opponents score touchdowns on 73 percent of their red-zone drives.

Intangibles: Special teams leans slightly to Ohio State because of punter Cameron Johnston, who averages 45.3 yards per kick, with 24 of his 45 kicks downed inside the 20. That advantage may be negated, though, by the tempo of this game, and the hard reality that if Ohio State is punting, that’s a drive that sees the Buckeyes falling behind.

How this one plays out: Seen any track meets lately? Both teams score in bunches, and I don’t see either really being capable of stopping the other consistently. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer would be wise to try to establish the run early as the Buckeyes were able to do in the ‘Bama game, the difference being that early mistakes like we also saw in the ‘Bama game will doom his team to hell against Oregon’s fast-break attack. I like Oregon in this one, pulling away in the second half of what will be an exciting championship game. Final: Oregon 54, Ohio State 44.

– Column by Chris Graham


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