*This column was originally published on The Sports Fan Journal.
Take a bow College Football Playoffs. On the first day of 2015, Kanye dropped a new single with Paul McCartney, Florida State finally lost, and the two heads of college football evil — Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin — were upset by the Ohio State Buckeyes and third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Maybe it’ll go downhill from here for the year, but it started off with one hell of a bang and now we all can’t wait for Jan. 12.
Heading into the two semifinal games, the much more hyped game was the Rose Bowl. We thought we were in for a down-to-the-wire game, and instead we had an absolute bashing by the Ducks, quacking the Seminoles all the way back to Florida. In the Sugar Bowl, we expected the blowout. Again, we were wrong, and this time in two different ways. Alabama was supposed to stomp Ohio State. It did not. With that stomping session, the Crimson Tide players were supposed to be playing in the national championship. They are not.
Like most times in sports, our most confident feelings are far from correct, but there’s still plenty that we learned from our mistakes. So, here are the five things we learned in our Jan. 1 semifinals doubleheader.
1. Thomas Tyner Is Alive
When Thomas Tyner came to the University of Oregon, he was a homegrown high school star looking to add to his Oregon heroism as a Duck. In his freshman campaign, he shared carries like a loaded Ducks backfield always does, yet he was an instant contributor. In 2013, Tyner ran for 711 yards and added nine rushing touchdowns. He was expected to play as a big contributor in 2014, but then injuries forced Tyner to miss four games, including the last three regular-season contests, plus the emergence of freshman stud Royce Freeman, who ran for over 1,300 yards this season, pulled attention away from Tyner. Freeman was the running back expected to give FSU a lot of trouble in the Rose Bowl, and though he did find the end zone twice, it was a healthy Tyner who showed the beast that he can still be.
In nine games this season, Tyner only accumulated 88 carries for 387 yards, three touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. His season high for yards was only 64, and as far as carries go, his high was 13. The Rose Bowl showed a Tyner that Ducks fans missed from 2013. On the day, Tyner matched his season high with 13 carries, but exploded for 124 yards, averaging nearly a first down every touch, and he also ran to the end zone twice. With Freeman, Tyner and Marcus Mariota carrying the rock, the Buckeyes have a three-headed monster of blazing fast, powerful Ducks to be worried about.
2. Don’t Sleep On Ezekiel Elliott
With all the talk about Ohio State’s quarterback situation, we all slept on the eventual Sugar Bowl Outstanding Offensive Player way too much. There seemed to be more talk about Ohio State’s and Alabama’s coaches than this man, but with his performance he should have us all talking. His name is Ezekial Elliott, and he’s here to stuff your stat sheets. After Elliott’s 20-carry, 230-yard performance against ‘Bama, he’s now run for back-to-back 200-plus-yard games in the two biggest ones of the year. In the Big 10 title game and Sugar Bowl, Elliott has combined for 450 yards on 40 carries and four touchdowns.
These aren’t Elliott’s first huge games this year by any means. It took until the fourth game of the year, but Elliott ran for at least 100 yards in eight different games this season. Unsurprisingly, the more you give the man the ball, the better he performs. In games that Elliott had at least 20 carries this season, his lowest yardage total was 109 yards, and he totaled eight touchdowns in those six games. Get to know this man’s name, because as a just sophomore he will be looking for his third straight 200-yard game.
3. Florida State Could Be Beaten, Streak Still Needs To Be Appreciated
Don’t tell me how Florida State shouldn’t have been in the college football playoff. Don’t tell me how TCU was better. We won’t know that, and we don’t need to. Yeah, in a perfect world TCU would have fought for a chance at a national championship, and it’s certainly possible the playoff expands wider than four teams, soon. In the real world, though, Florida State won. Actually, the Seminoles won in 29 straight games to be exact. Every run needs to come to an end, and no matter how ugly some of their wins were this year, or how lucky we thought Jameis Winston was when he constantly got out of games, he and the Seminoles won and that’s all that matters. We found out that this wild run had to come to an end courtesy of the Ducks in a romping of a loss, but we need to appreciate the streak, no matter how you feel about Winston and the ‘Noles.
4. The Tough Ducks
They’re flashy. They’re bright. They’re fast. They’re a gimmick. They’re soft. Those are five ways that the Oregon Ducks have wrongfully been described all year long. The Ducks are tough, plain and simple. There were times against Florida State when Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were rushing right up the gut, but then they showed their toughness. Oregon forced five turnovers against an undefeated Florida State, including one of the biggest scoop and scores in bowl history, when Jameis Winston slipped, fumbled the ball and Tony Washington rumbled 58 yards for the touchdown.
5. This Is The Game We All Wanted
That statement sounds false. Trust me, I know how it sounds. The consensus was that we wanted an Oregon vs. ‘Bama game, or just Oregon vs. Florida State, or even Florida State vs. ‘Bama. Basically, anything without Ohio State, but really, this is the game we wanted. The Heisman Trophy winner versus the 6-foot-5, 250-pound third-string quarterback who has shown his huge talent in only two starts. Two rushing attacks with a balance of speed and power. Urban Meyer trying to add to his legendary coaching pedigree with another national championship versus Mark Helfrich trying to finally get out of Chip Kelly’s shadow and win a title for Oregon. And finally, no SEC school in the national championship for the first time in nine years. It may not be the game we admittedly wanted, but deep down it is. Come Jan. 12, we’ll be in another wild ride of this already beautiful College Football Playoff.