Oregon-Ohio State: First 5 things to know about the national title game
It took one drubbing and another nail-biter in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Thursday to set the matchup for this year’s national title game.
Second-ranked Oregon will face No. 4 Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Texas on Jan. 12.
While we’ll have more than a week to break down every angle of the matchup, here are the five things to know right off the bat.
OREGON’S THE EARLY FAVORITE
The opening line has Oregon listed as a 7-point favorite vs. the Buckeyes in the national title game, though that might not mean too much. Consider the Buckeyes have opened as underdogs in the last two games as well. Wisconsin was initially favored by three points and got smoked 59-0 for the conference crown. Against ‘Bama, the Buckeyes opened as 9 1/2-point underdogs, only to pull out a 42-35 win over the Tide on Thurday.
HEISMAN WINNER VS. NEW MAN ON CAMPUS
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will arrive in Arlington as the more proven quarterback by far. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner has played 40 games for the Ducks and this season has thrown 40 touchdowns against just four interceptions. The junior, who may be playing his last college game, is coming off a Rose Bowl performance in which he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another TD in the Ducks’ 59-20 win. Speed, power and creative playmaking ability . . . Mariota has it all.
Cardale Jones will be under center for Ohio State. The sophomore will make just his third career start but has quickly taken the reins of the Buckeyes’ attack after Heisman candidate J.T. Barrett went down with a broken ankle vs. Michigan. Jones led OSU to a 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, throwing for 257 yards and three TDs (no picks) in his first start. He followed up that performance with 243 passing yards and a TD in the team’s takedown of top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday.
Oregon was already without All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who is done for the season due to what a source told FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman was a serious knee injury. Now, they might have to play for a national title without wide receiver Devon Allen, too. Allen suffered a right knee injury returning the game’s opening kickoff vs. Florida State and is expected to miss the Ohio State game, a source told Feldman. Allen has the most receiving touchdowns (7) and second-most receiving yards (684) for the Ducks this season. He also returns kickoffs for the team.
However, don’t expect any sympathy from Ohio State, which lost two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller on the eve of the season and then his backup, Barrett, just over a month ago.
TWO HIGH-FLYING ATTACKS
The Ducks and Buckeyes know how to light up the scoreboard. Both teams rank in the top 5 in points per game, with Ohio State averaging 45 points (fifth) and Oregon just over 47 (third). The Buckeyes have scored at least 31 points all but once this season, while the Ducks have dipped below the 38 mark just one time. Don’t expect a defensive stalemate, is what we’re saying.
TOP TIER OF COACHING
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is already considered one of the game’s premier head coaches. He won two BCS national titles while at Florida (2006 and ’08) and has gone 37-3 in three years at OSU, capturing the Big Ten title this season. Three national championships split between two schools would elevate his legacy and put him squarely on the road to the Hall of Fame.
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich will be manning the other sideline. The second-year head coach took over for Philadelphia Eagles boss Chip Kelly and the program hasn’t missed a beat. Helfrich has compiled a 24-3 record in Eugene and already has a Pac-12 championship under his belt after leading the Ducks to the top this season. Could a national title in Year Three launch him into the upper echelon of the coaching ranks?