(2) Oregon Ducks (-9.5, 71 o/u) vs. (3) Florida State Seminoles
The Oregon Ducks (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12) want to see their junior QB Marcus Mariota – who is the current favorite to be the #1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft – leave school with a National Championship.
In order to reach the title game, though, the Ducks will need to eliminate the current title holders, Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC), in the Rose Bowl on January 1 (5:00 p.m. Eastern).
Not only is Mariota likely to be first off the board in the NFL draft, he’s also likely to have some new hardware on his trophy shelf in the near future. After throwing for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just four interceptions in 2014, the Honolulu native is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
As always, the Ducks will rely on their prolific, up-tempo offense against Florida State. According to teamrankings.com, Oregon ran 77.1 plays per game this season (versus 69.5 for FSU). Oregon finished the regular season as the third-highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 46.3 points per game. The incredible numbers continued in the Pac-12 title game, where Oregon outgained Arizona 640 yards to 224 en route to a 51-13 win, crushing the large 14.5-point spread.
“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” Mariota said after beating Arizona. “Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next.”
We now know that “whoever comes next” is the only undefeated team in college football, the Florida State Seminoles.
It’s not often that an undefeated defending National Champion – complete with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (QB Jameis Winston) – enters a game as an underdog, but that’s exactly the situation facing Florida State, as the Ducks are currently 9.5-point favorites. While that line may swing somewhat in the coming weeks, the Ducks are certain to remain the favorites barring an injury to Mariota.
Part of the reason for the large spread is the unimpressive nature of many of the Noles’ wins. Florida State had to come from behind several times this season against what was perceived to be lesser competition. The Noles posted comeback win against Miami, Louisville, Notre Dame, N.C. State, and Clemson. Of those teams, only No. 17 Clemson and No. 22 Louisville finished the season in CFP’s top-25. Turnovers were part of the problem for Florida State. Winston, in particular was in an overly generous mood all year, throwing 17 interceptions on the year and 12 in the last seven games.
Another reason for the large spread is Oregon’s de facto home-field advantage. With the game taking place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the crowd is certain to be partial to the Pac-12 team.
Not only will the Ducks have the crowd on their side, but they will also have several trends weighing in their favor. Oregon is 20-6 ATS after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game, 8-0 ATS in its last eight games as favorite, and 5-2 ATS in its last seven bowl games.
The Seminoles, however, have been even better against the number in the postseason, going 8-1-1 ATS in their last ten bowl games. They are also 12-5-1 ATS in their last 18 neutral site games, but just 2-6 ATS in their last eight against teams with a winning record. Their ATS struggles against winning teams continued in the ACC title game, where they edged out Georgia Tech 37-35 as four-point faves.
While the Noles will undoubtedly fight to the bitter end – as they always do – look for the Ducks offense to prove too much for Florida State’s suspect defense.
(Photo credit: Neon Tommy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)