(2) Oregon Ducks (-6, 74 o/u) vs. (4) Ohio State Buckeyes
It all comes down to this. The first ever College Football Playoff goes tonight as the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes square-off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (8:30 p.m. Eastern).
Oregon and head coach Mark Helfrich will both be looking for their first ever national championship. Ohio State, meanwhile, will be after its eighth, while Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is already a two-time winner with the Florida Gators.
Both Oregon and Ohio State come in after impressive wins in their respective semifinal games.
Oregon routed last year’s champion, the Florida State Seminoles, in the Rose Bowl. The game was tight at the half (18-13), but Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Ducks literally and figuratively ran away from the Seminoles in the second half, outscoring Florida State 41-7 after the break. The 39-point margin of victory was more than enough to cover the 6.5-point spread, giving the Ducks their ninth straight ATS win.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes took care of business against heavily favored Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (42-35). Even with third-string QB Cardale Jones under center, Ohio State outgained Alabama by 130 yards (537-407), doing what most people predicted it wouldn’t be able to: run the ball at will against Bama’s vaunted front seven. The run-game, coupled with three costly Alabama turnovers, led the Buckeyes back from an early 14-6 deficit.
Tonight, both teams’ defenses will have the good fortune of facing an offense that is not at full capacity.
The Buckeyes will once again have third-stringer Jones at the helm, as pre-season starter Braxton Miller and his replacement, J.T. Barrett, remain sidelined with season ending injuries. Jones has done everything head coach Urban Meyer has asked him to in his two career starts (the Big Ten title game and the Sugar Bowl). That said, Meyer has obviously used a more run-oriented game plan with the inexperienced pivot.
The Ducks will be without second-leading receiver Darren Carrington after the speedster failed a drug test, and third-leading receiver Devon Allen, who was injured during the Rose Bowl. With Carrington and Allen out, the Ducks will have to rely even more heavily on leading receiver (and converted running back) Byron Marshall, along with freshman Charles Nelson.
Oregon’s receivers coach, Matt Lubick, insisted his team has the depth to overcome the losses. “This is the healthiest we’ve been in a long time at receiver,” Lubick told Yahoo! Sports. “To be honest, our depth right now is better than it was last year at this time. I think we’ve got six or seven guy[s].”
Even with all the injuries to star offensive players, the over/under remains at a high 74. In light of the injuries, it’s tempting to jump on the under, but keep in mind that 12 of Ohio State’s 14 games hit the over this year, including both with Jones at QB.
(Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)