Hours from now, a new champion in college football will be crowned. After taking down the two teams that have won the last three national championships, Oregon and Ohio State will tangle at AT&T Stadium.
Oregon comes in with a ton of confidence after dismantling Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Led by Marcus Mariota, the Ducks have a volatile offense that matches up with the very best in the country along with a physical defense.
On the other side stands Ohio State, which shocked the world with an upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Even though they're on their third quarterback this season in Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes have a potent attack with Ezekiel Elliott leading the way on the ground.
Prior to kickoff, here's a look at the viewing info, odds and breakdown of the national championship.
Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
When: Monday, Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: Oregon -6.5
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com.
For two teams that have dominated the sport in recent months, they have each followed a similar path.
Ohio State comes in with Jones at quarterback, who started the season third on the depth chart. Despite the signal-caller shuffle, the Buckeyes still come in with the fifth-best scoring offense (45 points per game).
Part of that success is due to Jones, who has stepped in admirably after both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were lost for the season. We've seen greatness shine through from Jones, but receiver Evan Spencer knows there is more he can unleash.
"You guys haven't seen all of his power," Spencer said, via Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "I've seen Cardale on one knee throw the ball 65 yards. I was dumbfounded. You haven't seen everything he's got, trust me."
Meanwhile, Oregon has seen one key player after another go down late in the season. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, an All-American cornerback, is out for the playoff due to a knee injury. Freshman receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, the No. 2 wideout, are both lost due to injury and ineligibility, respectively.
Even with those losses, Mariota comes in looking like the top player, not just the best quarterback, in the country. Having the Heisman winner under center gives the Ducks a dual-threat option to open up the field. ESPN Stats & Info also notes just how well he's played on the big stage:
Along with the two dynamic quarterbacks, both squads feature backfields with outstanding tailbacks. Royce Freeman excelled as a freshman in the Ducks system to lead the team in rushing and touchdowns.
Elliott, a sophomore, has set the world on fire in the last two games with 450 rushing yards and four touchdowns. ESPN College Football provides a look at a comparison of their ridiculous production:
Let's just say that fans can expect offensive gymnastics from both sides, but it will ultimately be Oregon's defense that changes the game. After compiling a Pac-12-best 36 sacks this season and causing 30 turnovers, expect the Ducks to finish with the upperhand.
On the shoulders of Mariota, Freeman and a potent defense, Oregon will take home its first national title. In a storybook year for the program, Monday night will be a fitting ending.
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Urban Meyer's biggest riddle as coach of Ohio State is not the Oregon Ducks, but his quarterback situation.
There can certainly be too much of a good thing.
Braxton Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2012 and '13, not to mention surefire Heisman Trophy finalist before his injury, figures to be ready for 2015. J.T. Barrett, who finished in the top five in Heisman voting after leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship, will be back as well.
Then there is Cardale Jones, a sophomore who may bring a national title back to Columbus and write the greatest three-game stretch by a quarterback in program history, if not in college football history as a whole.
No pressure, Urban.
“It’s very unique. I’ve never seen a situation like this,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel. “There may be a situation like this out there, but I’d be shocked because of the talent level of all three. It’s interesting.”
See, if Meyer makes the wrong decision, promises the wrong thing or even sends off iffy vibes, he may lose one of Miller, Barrett or both, leaving him depleted should the starter suffer an injury once again.
The rare situation is part of the reason Miller's name continues to come up in transfer chatter, such as a note by Rusty Mansell of 247 Sports:
As Bryan Fischer of NFL.com notes, chatter about Miller taking his talents to Florida State to man the position Jameis Winston leaves behind as he turns pro continues to pop up as well.
In that report, though, Fischer cites Meyer as saying that "I do expect Braxton to return," so expect things to pick up on this front after the title game.
As for Barrett, the redshirt sophomore has two years of eligibility left. Like Miller, he has been nothing but supportive of Jones through the crucial three-game stretch, as ESPN's Joe Schad details:
As for Jones, he has already made it abundantly clear he will return to Columbus in 2015, saying to the media before the title game that he "will definitely be back," per FoxSports.com's Zac Jackson.
For now, all three quarterbacks are playing things by the book. Outside of being downright great teammates, all three seem to realize the gravity of their situations should they want to transfer or go pro.
How Meyer plays his cards will reveal all. Should he choose to do right by Miller, especially so that he can go on to the NFL with high draft stock, one of Barrett or Jones may depart.
Miller has options, though. Outside of the accolades and great demeanor in the face of adversity, 5,292 yards, 52 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in three seasons at Ohio State with another 3,054 yards and 32 scores on the ground does that for a quarterback.
Due another year of eligibility despite graduating in December thanks to his injury before his fourth season, Miller's first opportunity to transfer comes the day of the title game, while he has until January 15 to apply for the NFL.
In other words, expect at least one decision to come quickly.
The reality is that Miller and Barrett will both take a backseat to Jones now and through the spring as they recover from injuries. Miller transferring seems a long shot, especially if he cannot recover from a nagging shoulder injury and considers a position change anyway.
That leaves Barrett and Jones to duke it out for the starting gig. The former, given his Heisman candidacy, figures to be the favorite for the starting spot next year. A transfer after already using his redshirt year seems unlikely. The fifth-year transfer route is available to Jones should he graduate on time, but that won't come until after 2015.
No matter how things shake up for all involved, everybody wins. Meyer's program is secure at the most important position of all, while all three quarterbacks have more than shown their worth at the collegiate level and pro upside.
For now, the focus remains Oregon. Win or lose, the impending quarterback situation ensures the future success of Meyer's offense, while the three names involved rest in positive situations with a variety of avenues open to them.
Injuries aside, everybody wins moving forward thanks to the wild ride that was 2014. That's a good problem to have.
Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
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