On Monday, January 12, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks will meet the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes in the first ever College Football Playoff Championship Game in Arlington, Texas (8:30 p.m. Eastern).
The teams come in with very similar resumes. Both have one loss, won their conference title game impressively, and looked very good in their respective semi-final games.
The make-up of the teams could scarcely be more different, though. Oregon is led by a Heisman-winning quarterback (Marcus Mariota) and relatively new head coach (Mark Helfrich), while Ohio State has a QB who will be making just his third-ever start (Cardale Jones), but has a two-time national champion patrolling its sideline (Urban Meyer).
So who will lead his team to glory this year, the Heisman quarterback or the coaching legend? Let’s compare notes.
Oregon started the season 4-0 including an impressive 46-27 takedown of Michigan State in week 2; after a lackluster first half, the Ducks outscored the Spartans 28-3 in the second.
After losing to Arizona (31-24) in early October, Oregon has not played a tight game. They beat ranked foes UCLA and Utah by a combined 36 points, and demolished Arizona, 51-13, in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Ducks are second in the NCAA in scoring, averaging more than 47 points per game, and both their passing and running attacks rank among the nation’s top-20. Mariota has completed less than 60% of his passes just once this year and has 55 touchdowns (passing and running) versus just three interceptions.
In the Rose Bowl, Oregon led Florida State 18-13 at halftime, with the Noles receiving the second-half kick. The game truly hung in the balance at the break, but the Ducks outscored FSU 41-7 in the second half and put up 639 yards of offense in the win. The 39-point margin of victory was more than enough to cover the single-digit spread.
Both the running and passing games had over 300 yards, and Mariota accounted for 400 yards and three scores on his own.
The main question mark for the Ducks is on the defensive side of the ball. Oregon gave up over 500 yards to the Noles in the Rose Bowl, but forced five turnovers to keep their points-against low. That performance was par for the course for the Ducks, who rank 102nd in the nation in total defense, but 27th in points allowed.
Meanwhile, at Ohio State, the legend of Urban Meyer continues to grow. He’s apt to earn the nickname “Coach Midas” given his penchant for turning teams into gold.
While at Utah – which, in case you’re unaware, is not a traditional football power – Meyer went 22-2 and won back-to-back bowl games, including a 28-point win in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
His success in Salt Lake City landed him the Florida job, and Meyer would go on to win two national titles in Gainesville.
Now at Ohio State, Meyer is 37-3 overall, has yet to lose a conference game, and has taken his team to the title game with a third-string QB. [He’s] gold Jerry, gold!
The Buckeyes lost their starting quarterback, All-American candidate Braxton Miller, right before the season began. Backup J.T. Barrett started just 1-1, losing to Virginia Tech in the team’s second game of the season. But he became a bona fide NFL prospect over the next ten weeks, as OSU went 10-0, including decisive victories over Michigan State and Minnesota.
Barrett was injured late in the year, though, and Cardale Jones – the third-string QB at the start of the year – would go on to make his first start in the Big Ten Championship Game. The question marks at QB led to the Buckeyes being four-point dogs against Wisconsin, but the team made all the odds-makers look foolish by trouncing the Badgers, 59-0.
Jones’ second-career start came in the Sugar Bowl – the other national semifinal – against No. 1 Alabama. The young pivot was decent, but not spectacular, going 18/35 for 243 yards, one TD, and one pick against the vaunted Bama defense.
Despite the Crimson Tide leading Ohio State 21-6 midway through the second quarter, Barrett and the Buckeyes won the Semifinal 42-35. OSU rushed for 281 yards and totaled 537 yards in the victory.
The heavy dose of the ground game was nothing new for the Buckeyes, who have leaned heavily on their running backs all year, averaging more than 260 rush yards per contest.
The Ducks are currently big favorites for the title game, sitting at -6.5 in the spread. Oregon went a solid 10-4 ATS this year, though, despite laying a lot of points in a lot of games. The Buckeyes were similarly good against the number, going 9-5 on the season.
(Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (Flickr: IMG_0020) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)