The inaugural College Football Playoff resulted in what promises to be an action-packed national championship game featuring an unexpected matchup between the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes.
Both of these squads certainly earned the right to play in the season's final game. Oregon knocked off Jameis Winston and the defending champion Florida State Seminoles, while Ohio State took down the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. The playoff format was established to ensure the nation's two most deserving teams squared off in the title game, and that appears to be the case here.
What's likely to happen when these two college football juggernauts face off on the grandest of stages? Before we delve into some analysis and predict the answer to that inquiry, let's first take a glance at the game's complete viewing information and updated odds.
What: CFP National Championship Game
Who: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State
When: Monday, January 12
Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN (cable subscription required)
Betting Info (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 74.5
- Spread: Oregon -5.5
Preview and Prediction
It doesn't get much more even than this entering a national championship game. Both the Ducks and Buckeyes feature two of the nation's best offenses, ranked second and fifth in scoring, respectively. Each team also features an underrated defense, as Ohio State allows an average of 22.1 points per game, while Oregon allows 22.3.
On paper, this is nearly an unpredictable contest; however, certain key players, matchups and schemes will prove to be the ultimate determining factors in this one.
For the Ducks, it all falls on the efficiency of Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. He displayed his electrifying playmaking ability once again in the Rose Bowl against the Seminoles, completing 26 of his 36 passing attempts for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, adding 62 rushing yards and another score.
That interception was only his third of the season, and that's a great statistic considering he's about to face an Ohio State defense that has accumulated 24 interceptions this season, including picking off the usually consistent Blake Sims three times in the Sugar Bowl.
Oregon must establish the run to keep Mariota's passing lanes open, and the resurgent Thomas Tyner will be a big factor here. Tyner complemented Royce Freeman nicely in the Rose Bowl, carrying 13 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. That was his first action since a November contest against Utah, and he certainly added an extra dimension in an effective offensive attack.
Ohio State is ranked 34th against the run and has allowed 24 rushing touchdowns and an average of 142.0 yards per game this season. Getting Tyner and Freeman going early will slow down a Buckeyes pass rush that accumulated 43 sacks and open things up against a pass defense that ranks 16th in the nation.
While the Buckeyes defense attempts to contain a very prolific Oregon offense, quarterback Cardale Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott must step up in a big way for Ohio State on the offensive side of the ball.
In Jones' start (only the second of his career) against a good Alabama defense, he completed 18 of his 35 passing attempts for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Those numbers aren't bad, but they aren't good enough to outduel Mariota and Co.
Sure, Jones will have more opportunities against Oregon's 108th-ranked pass defense, but the Ducks have been solid in that department of late. While Winston threw for 348 yards in the Rose Bowl, he completed just 29 of his 45 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Oregon also dominated Arizona's passing game in the Pac-12 championship.
This is where Elliott comes in. The sophomore ball-carrier has been stepping up in big games, carrying 20 times for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin and rushing another 20 times for 230 yards and two scores in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. That is impressive.
Elliott will have some great opportunities against an Oregon team that just allowed Florida State ball-carriers Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams to average 6.9 and 6.7 yards per carry, respectively. For comparison's sake, Elliott hasn't averaged lower than 7.1 yards per carry since November 15.
If this exciting running back can get going, he'll give Jones much more time to pick his spots against a ball-hawking Ducks secondary that has accumulated 30 takeaways this season.
Each offense has the ability to scope out the opposing defense's weaknesses and take full advantage. This will almost surely lead to a back-and-forth shootout. In this kind of game, it all comes down to which quarterback you trust more with the football in the game's waning minutes. It's really difficult to go against Mariota there.
Prediction: Oregon 47, Ohio State 41
All team rankings and statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and current as of January 11 at 1:30 a.m. ET.
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