*This column was originally published on The Sports Fan Journal.
When the Florida State Seminoles and Jameis Winston sat on top of the world as BCS champions last year, FSU fans were on cloud nine, but they were far from alone. Death to the BCS! The troubled college football era was finally over with the announcement of a four-team playoff coming the next season. What followed was just as much controversy that the BCS brought with outside teams such as Baylor and TCU believing they deserved a chance at the title. In the end, the playoff system wasn’t perfect in every way, yet it brought us the two Big Os of college football in a Bucks vs. Ducks national championship game.
Okay, so now that we’re finally here, what can we expect out of the self-proclaimed THEE Ohio State University Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks?
It all starts with crossing the end zone for these two, and rightfully so, the quarterbacks hold destiny in their hands. Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones may have come from two different bizarro worlds with the way their personalities are seen. Jones is the outspoken, sideways-hat-wearing, third-string quarterback who has owned social media as a backup and starting quarterback for the Buckeyes.
Before he was seen as the underdog hero, Jones was known as the guy that tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” Let’s call this a freshman mistake. After beating Alabama in his second career start en route to the national championship game, Jones took over Twitter the right way.
3rd String pic.twitter.com/fxdFbFSJeR
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) January 2, 2015
Now that’s how you do Twitter. To top off his social media takeover, Jones was at the center of one of the best Vine disses in history at the annual media day for the national championship game, dissing his teammate Tyvis Powell.
Game over. You win, Cardale. Well, that is, the game before the real game, which has been owned by the soft-spoken, Heisman-winning Hawaiian who stays away from social media and instead does his talking on the field through the art of touchdowns. Mariota and his 55 total touchdowns through the air and ground have led the Ducks to 553 yards per game, good for the third best in the country. The Ducks may have lost a few wings in their offense for the biggest game of them all, hindering Mariota’s wide array of weapons, but they still have the Heisman winner calling the shots.
Of all the big Rose Bowl performances by the Ducks, one stood out from them all, via redshirt freshman Darren Carrington. Turning a quick slant into six points and and taking a deep ball with a deadly step-back move to the house, Carrington finished the day with 165 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Then, Carrington tested positive for marijuana, warranting a suspension for tonight’s game. Not only will the Ducks be without their No. 2 receiver, but their No. 3 receiver in yards and leader in touchdowns, speedster Devon Allen, will be out for the game too. Allen, the NCAA 110-meter hurdles champion, hurt his knee on the opening kick of the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks’ biggest speed threat will certainly be missed from their high-octane offense.
Without Allen and Carrington, running back turned receiver Byron Marshall will have to play a huge role in the passing game. On top of the leader Marshall, Oregon will need big contributions from Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford and backup tight end Evan Baylis.
While Mariota has lost two of his best receivers in one week, Jones may be the perfect quarterback for Ohio State’s Devin Smith. Jones claims he can throw a ball 80 to 85 yards, hence his nickname 12 Gauge. Smith, the nation’s top deep threat, has totaled 224 yards, four touchdowns and 37 yards per catch in the two games Jones has started. With the loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks will need plenty of help in stopping Smith from dashing for a deep bomb.
Aside from Jones and Smith, the Ducks will have to stop sophomore Ezekiel Elliott on the ground. Before a case of slippery hands saw the Ducks snatch a plethora of fumbles against Florida State, the Seminoles were able to run with success on Oregon’s defense. Oregon ranks 51st in the nation, allowing 151 rush yards per game, while Ohio State ranks 10th in the nation at 262 rushing yards per game. It starts with the defensive line. With an outside rushing attack, the Ducks will be riding on defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.
For Oregon, it’s a three-headed rushing attack with breakaway speed for all three and power by the two backs, Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner. Against Alabama, the Buckeyes faced more of a power running game, holding the duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to 142 yards on 23 carries. Still, over six yards a carry, but a much different run game. Up front, Michael Bennett, Ohio State’s top-ranked draft prospect, will need to plug up the middle, while linebacker Darron Lee needs to roam from side to side after seven tackles in the Sugar Bowl.
When all is said and done, like any other big game, it will be defined by one word: Execution. Both teams must execute from first down to fourth down, limit their turnovers on offense and create them any way possible on defense. Both teams have faced a hard injury bug this year but found glory all the way to Jerry World. Ohio State is looking for its first title since 2002. Oregon is looking for its first title period. For the entire college football world, the College Football Playoff National Championship title will be a much anticipated first for all of us.